The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Movie ReviewLionsgate Films
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.
Running time: 123 minutes.
Two stars out of four.

Despite its action and revelations, its substantial political allegory and its strong performances from a tremendous cast, “The Hunger Games: Mockingkay — Part 1” still feels like one long placeholder. It’s an elaborate game of hurry-up-and-wait. And it’s the most shameless example yet of splitting the final book in a hugely popular series into two film adaptations.

The “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” franchises took the same approach with some success. Actually, the absolute last “Twilight” movie is so exciting in such an insane way that deviates so daringly from the text, it almost excuses all the films that preceded it. “Mockingjay — Part 1” features some tweaks and expansion of its own in bringing the third book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy to the screen, but they do little to enhance the story. More often, they feel like filler, and they make the split seem like a rather transparent attempt to cash in twice. (And it worked: “Mockingjay — Part 1” made an estimated $123 million in its opening weekend.)

Director Francis Lawrence’s movie has some smarts and some thrills, but too often it feels like a turgid, repetitive slog, especially compared to the excitement and the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor, “Catching Fire” (which Lawrence also directed). Still, as the heroic teen Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence once again engages us by finding that tricky balance between bravery and vulnerability. Considering the diverse and mature work she’s done amid the “Hunger Games” movies, from “Silver Linings Playbook” to “American Hustle” to “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” it’s a pleasant change to see her looking young and fresh-faced again. At the same time, it feels like she’s moved beyond this YA-novel, futuristic dystopia by now.

This time, Katniss must serve as the reluctant face and voice of the revolution that is sweeping across Panem. The games are over, and we now know that the man who devised the sadistic competition, Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated), is a key figure in the rebellion. Katniss, her mother and her younger sister, Prim, are now among the refugees in the secret rebel headquarters of District 13, a massive underground bunker led by the all-business President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, in an extremely different “Boogie Nights” reunion with Hoffman). The massively overqualified cast does so much to elevate this material beyond its familiar, post-apocalyptic trappings. There’s a scene in which Hoffman, Moore and Jeffrey Wright (returning as gadget guru Beetee) are sitting around a conference table in the District 13 war room, strategizing with Lawrence as Katniss, which feels way more substantive than it might through the sheer presence of these performers.

The political satire element of “Mockingjay — Part 1” is its strength. In order to rally the people to persevere and push on with their fight, Katniss must star in a series of propaganda films. She must become the Mockingjay — the physical symbol of strength and hope — complete with a high-tech outfit, special effects and inspirational (but fake) background footage. Hoffman serves as the shrewd and sardonic puppetmaster. But another key member of Katniss’ team is her old Capitol escort, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), now deglammed in the same drab wardrobe as the rest of the folks who are lucky to be alive in 13. Effie doesn’t even appear in this section of the book, but Banks’ playful flamboyance is a welcome source of humor in this otherwise dour setting. (And while this was probably unintentional, her appearance in a makeshift turban is reminiscent of Jared Leto’s transsexual turn in “Dallas Buyers Club.”)

At its best, this subplot calls to mind the sharply cynical commentary of Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog,” with its fabricated war. But then, “Mockingjay — Part 1” believes its own hype and sends Katniss out into real scenes of battle and squalor in hopes of achieving a sense of authenticity. While Katniss’ willingness to set out among the people provides some disturbing and violent images, it also smothers the film in a suffocating sameness. The carnage and destruction in District 8 looks like District 13 looks like District 2. Every place she goes, Katniss scales a pile of bone and rubble, only to reach the top and realize there’s even more, as far as the eye can see. While Lawrence is more than capable of displaying a fiery presence, too often she’s relegated to furrowing her brow in sadness.

While the rebellion’s team is penetrating the airwaves with its feisty messages, the creepy and tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) responds in kind, airing interviews between game show host Caesar Flickerman (an underused Stanley Tucci) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss’ former competitor-turned-companion. Turns out he’s alive, and he’s become the Capitol’s mouthpiece. Still, Katniss finds herself once again torn emotionally between this twisted version of Peeta and good, old reliable Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her childhood best friend. The hunky Gale is clearly the correct choice for her, although both dudes remain woefully bland.

The “Hunger Games” series has never been about Katniss’ inner conflict in the midst of a love triangle, though. It’s been about her being a bad-ass and defining herself not by a man but by her own actions, either through a selfless gesture or her strength with a bow and arrow. Yet in the most dangerous sequence in “Mockingjay — Part 1,” she’s stuck staring in frustration at a series of television monitors while the men carry out a “Zero Dark Thirty”-style rescue mission.

She — and we — will have to wait for her to reclaim her glory a year from now in “Mockingjay — Part 2.”

27 Comments on “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

  1.  by  Rich Chambers

    Hi Christy,
    I would have been OK with far fewer open-mouthed, I’m staggered scenes and one extended view of the underside of the transporter was plenty. Seemed like filler in the filler.
    Rich Chambers

  2.  by  Miguel Cruz

    Not having read the books, I suspect this one is almost scene for scene faithful. How else to explain how 85% of the movie consists of people describing offscreen events. You can get away with that when it’s words on a page. But cinema demands we be out into the actual scene and not hear someone’s recounting of it.

    •  by  Megan

      It really is. I’ve read the books several times and even some of the dialogue was taken word-for-word from the book. The only big deviation, from what I remember of the book, was the climax, where we see Finnick talking while Gale and the others conduct the rescue. As I recall, in the book she’s just told that the rescue is underway and a short time later it cuts to her seeing Peeta. But yeah, apart from that and the inclusion of Effie, it’s the most literal adaption of a movie from a book that I’ve ever seen.

  3.  by  Evan

    Really? THE most shameless example? I assume you didn’t see the last two Twilight movies, one of which was a 2 hour wedding.

  4.  by  Evan

    Oh yeah, and the second of which included an added 45 minute dream sequence…

    •  by  Gary

      The dream sequence is the one change everybody loved. Twilight and Harry Potter did well in their splits but MOCKINGJAY did not.

      •  by  mike

        I finally saw mockingjay and couldn’t disagree more regarding the split into 2 parts. I had no issues with where/how it ended and felt overall it was done just as well as catching fire (albeit with a completely different feel/pace). The ending wasn’t all that much different, in regards to leaving the audience hanging, than fire was since it all pretty much picked up again after her learning of district 12. Sure this one was more mid scene, but man what an emotional scene that was to leave us with. It personally made me want to take the ride again soon.

  5.  by  Fred Arnold

    You realize it’s exactly like the book. And the book was shit. So the movies will be shit too.

    •  by  Riley

      Ditto. The last book only got read because of the first 2. Even catching fire wasn’t as much fun as the first but at least it was still cool and interesting. I even reread this book series but could put myself through the last book. On the other hand, the first movie felt like a censored, censored, plot accurate rendering of the first book.

  6.  by  Gary

    Both the Twilight and the Harry Potter films that were split into two films were 750+ page books. This was a 390 page book. What could have been put into 45 minutes was put into 2 hours. The movie was long and hard to sit through and its box office gross will suffer. I don’t think it will even hit $240 million in the US. It is getting bad word of mouth.

  7.  by  Heather R

    This book didn’t need to be split. If they remain true to the book, no one is going to like the ending. I have a feeling the last movie is going to be awful, just like the book was.

  8.  by  Jon U

    Miss Lemire,

    I will be following your lead going forward with movie reviews. This review was spot on. Can I have the last two hours of my life back? So blatantly obvious this movie was all about making a few extra bucks…

  9.  by  Rick Harris

    Hunger games was like taking a sleeping pill .you are exactly
    Correct. It’s all about the money

  10.  by  Andre Hunt

    I haven’t read the books. I personally enjoyed this movie because it gave me a much richer picture of the entire universe they are living in and all the dynamics associated with it. The first two movies were so much associated around the games that I didn’t get a rich sense of the overall feel of the world the movies took place in. Now I get it.

  11.  by  bigtruckseriesreview

    The “Zero Dark Thirty” allegory is unavoidable.
    I’m glad the series is drawing to a close. I have no idea what to expect – and I don’t read the books for spoilers.

    •  by  Uday Jhunjhunwala

      Umm the books are the originals. Try reading for a change. Better explanations of the universe and people’s moods. You just cannot spoil an adaptation of a book by READING THE BOOK.

  12.  by  roxy

    I respectfully disagree that it’s the most shameless split.Don’t get me wrong, they are all shameless splits made with the sole purpose of cashing in as much money as possible; and this movie is absolutely not amazing, it’s clearly a bridge between the second and the final movie.But please, do not try to tell me that this movie was worse than the two hours Breaking Dawn Part 1 movie, which consisted of Edward and Bella getting married and having sex.That whole movie could have been done in 40 minutes tops.The fact that the final Twilight book had 700 pages is irrelevant.Most of those were filler pages, with nothing exciting happening for entire chapters.

  13.  by  Christian Toto

    It’s hard to get angry at Hollywood for splitting up the final story … look at those box office figures! Still, it’s a shame to gather all this talent and not give them something energizing to do beyond keeping a straight face as they say each others’ names.

  14.  by  Antonio Gutierrez

    If you guys had read this book and understood it, your perception of the movie would be different. The first two movies were action packed, but mockingjay is different. The book is designed in a way to give you a backbone to the second half. Once part 2 comes out, you will realize the importance of the slow-paced film. Part 1 is warming you up for Part 2, if you want action, then get ready for part 2. The book has been so cleverly devised, that you will overlook the fact that part 1 has less action, and realize the importance of it.

    •  by  Uday Jhunjhunwala

      Thank you for finally conveying the fact that this movie was a build-up to the action that is going to be part 2. I personally have not seen the movie but then the book up to this point was also pretty muck Katniss waiting around and her struggles in 13. Not much action there.

      •  by  Uday Jhunjhunwala

        Sorry much instead of muck

  15.  by  Gerald Egan

    This review summed things up well. This film was awful.

  16.  by  Ian kettle

    Anyone going to way-in on The Hobbit… That is where shameful splits are out of controls!

    For me, this movie was, in its own right a moving once of entertainment that did a lot about where we are all heading in the not so distant future…

    The costume department could do with being banged-up… But other than that… I am enjoying the series..!

  17.  by  Larry Swearingen

    Just saw Mockingjay 1, what a let down ! The whole plot seemed contrived and stiff. Jennifer Lawrence seemed bored with her role and possibly suffering from moods attributable to PMS, instead of the kick ass that she portrayed in the 2 previous movies. I couldn’t wait for this film to be over. Yes it did also seem that it was just fluff and fill for part 2 to come, but I don’t know if I can tolerate another lackluster performance by this cast again…

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  19.  by  Abby

    I understand that Twilight needed a two part movie but Harry Potter and possibly the Hobbit (I haven’t read the book yet) are the only two that deserves two parts. Harry potter did extremely well and they still had to cut certain chapters out to make room for everything. Mockingjay was a bore and the only great scene was the Hanging Tree. Hunger Games has always been greedy for money and this just proves it. Part 1 is boring and Part 2 will be laughable with the amount of action and death that people will be bored! Turing a 360 page book into a two part movie is just another reason why Hollywood is greedy for money. Only bad part is that people adore this garbage and Hollywood keeps feeding it to the media.

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