The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Review

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Cast:
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee
Jeffrey Wright as Beetee
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Natalie Dormer as Cressida
Donald Sutherland as President Snow
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair
Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Mahershala Ali as Boggs
Wes Chatham as Castor
Elden Henson as Pollux
Jermaine Tindell as Luther
Patina Miller as Commander Paylor
Stef Dawson as Annie Cresta
Robert Knepper as Antonius
Michael Garza as Eddy
Evan Ross as Messalla

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Review:
The last time we saw Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, she had just finished the grueling Quarter Quell Hunger Games and had been “saved” by what turns out to be the resistance to the oppressive President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. Katniss winds up in District 13, long thought to be destroyed where she’s being groomed by diplomats, including former Capitol speech writer Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the district’s own President Coin (Julianne Moore) to be a figurehead for the revolution. While they retrieve Katniss and District 4’s Finnick (Sam Claflin), her Hunger Games partner and confidante, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), has been taken by the Capitol basically for the same reason, to use him to squelch the rebellion.

There’s something bittersweet about getting the continuation of Katniss’ story so soon after the last chapter, since “Catching Fire’s” cliffhanger ending really left us wanting more. And that’s basically all that we get in what is essentially a transitional film that takes what happened in the Quarter Quell and sets up what will inevitably be an all-out war.

So what do we get this time around? A lot of Katniss moping about being separated from Peeta and getting increasingly more worried whenever he appears on Capitol TV being interviewed by Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, apparently not in control of what he’s saying. We spend a lot of time in the underground bunker that is District 13 hearing various plans to try to get the word out about the revolution with a few excursions to assay the aftermath of the Quarter Quell and Snow’s violent reaction to Katniss’ betrayal. Most of the resistance’s plans involve Katniss, now known as “The Mockingjay,” whose feisty spirit has become motivation for the other districts to rebel against the Capitol. Getting Katniss out to the public is the main challenge faced by District 13 as they try to capture Katniss in propaganda-like promos or “propos”–let’s face it, names are not Suzanne Collins’ forté–and that’s where Natalie Dormer’s Cressida and her crew come into play.

“Mockingjay” has such a different look and feel than the previous movies, which may be necessary to keep things fresh, but it also has more problems even than the original movie. The main one is Jennifer Lawrence, who tries to change things up to show a different aspect of Katniss, one who has been broken by the Quarter Quell. One would imagine having an Oscar-winning actress like Lawrence in the role would give the role more gravitas and that it would be a cakewalk, which makes it shocking that she has more than a few moments where the acting just isn’t up to snuff. (And we’re not just talking about the moments when Katniss is in front of the camera doing “propos” either.)

Probably one of the best things going for the movie is that there?s a lot more Philip Seymour Hoffman in what is sadly his final performance with many solid scenes between him, Moore and Lawrence. Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy offer some of the film’s only opportunities for levity and they just don’t have very many scenes in this movie. Sam Claflin brings us a very different Finnick than the Cheshire Cat-grinning egomaniac from “Catching Fire,” but he gets little screen time in what is essentially an ensemble piece. Blink and you’ll miss Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason, one of the best additions in the last movie – the new characters played by Dormer and Mahershala Ali, who are on Katniss’ “away team” just don’t have the same spark or energy.

Liam Hensworth’s Gayle, Katniss’ “childhood friend,” is allowed to make up for lost screen time, compared to Josh Hutcherson, who only appears on the screen a few times, though Hemsworth doesn’t use that opportunity to show he’s more than a pretty boy with more sex appeal than Peeta. That’s another problem since there’s been little about Peeta in past movies to make him seem like someone Katniss might choose over Gayle, so it’s hard to understand why she seems so obsessed with his situation.

What you end up with is a lot of big speeches and even more overly-sentimental moments, with little of the excitement, the action or the tension that made the previous “The Hunger Games” so great. Like in the book, there are no actual Hunger Games, and the only attempt at true suspense feels like little more than an extended “Call of Duty” cut sequence.

It’s hard to ignore the obvious, that the two previous books were adapted by experienced Oscar-worthy screenwriters, while “Mockingjay” is written by relative newcomers and it shows, because the writing just isn?t up to the previous standards either. Like the previous movie, the writers do their best to remain faithful to the first part of Collins’ third book, but not a lot happens and then just when things do start happening, the movie ends. To be continued.

The Bottom Line:
A disappointing follow-up to “Catching Fire.” You’re left feeling as if you’ve only watched half a movie without the same feeling of anticipation to see what happens next. Essentially, it suffers from the same problem faced by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by forcing us to wait an entire year before learning whether the second half makes up for it.