Mark Reviews Movies

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mahershala Ali, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Evan Ross, Paula Malcomson, Sarita Choudhury, Jena Malone

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material)

Running Time: 2:03

Release Date: 11/21/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 20, 2014

Even in the world of a totalitarian regime that partly relies on a state of consistency for its power, it would be silly for the protagonist of this series to find herself in a death match for a third time, so The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 does not have the eponymous games in it. That's not to say there won't be a surprise appearance of the games in the second part of the final installment in this series, but that seems unlikely, considering how the overarching narrative of this series has evolved. Besides, the old adage about fooling someone doesn't bother to mention a third time for good reason.

That the movie series has evolved is primarily due to the previous installment, which not only provided a logical reason for Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) to once again find herself fighting for her life in a welfare-for-warfare sport established by an oppressive government but also provided a more logical view of the series' world. After the first movie left us wondering why no one did anything about the murderous tyranny of the state, the second movie offered murmurs of a rebellion brewing.

That revolution has arrived here. Well, from the perspective the movie takes, the revolution arrives over there, away from the main characters, who spend a lot of time talking about insurrection but very little time having anything to do with it. This is a pretty passive rebellion: waiting for the fighting to stop before the heroine goes to a warzone, listening to lots of speeches (The crowd doesn't quite seem to realize they're throwing off the shackles of one all-powerful system for what appears to be another), making attack plans, and holing up in a bunker during a bombing run. We can almost hear this revolution's resounding rallying cry: "Hurry up and wait!"

It's enough, really, to make one miss the reliability of the formula established by the first two movies. No matter what happened before the games commenced, everything was building to something. We could feel it coming. We could appreciate the stakes for the characters. Those entries at least generated a sense of foreboding for the impending Hunger Games. The games, with their own peaks and valleys and twists and turns, were really the extended climaxes of their stories.

With no games here, we spend the movie waiting for whatever climax this story has in store. With the story of this entry split into two parts (The second will be released in a year), that climax never arrives (If Hollywood continues this pattern, we'll need a catchy name to describe the maddening trend—one that, coincidentally, seems to be happening more often with series that make a lot of money). The narrative of this first part is a lengthy valley with a few mounds of dirt along the way.

The story finds Katniss in the massive, underground bunker of District 13, which everyone believed the Capitol had destroyed decades ago. They've survived on militaristic can-do and gumption. The district's leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) want Katniss to become the face of the revolution.

She agrees after seeing the destruction of her home of District 12 and setting a few conditions, namely the rescue of the tributes captured by the Capitol after the events at the end of the previous movie. She also wants a guarantee that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) will not face any punishment for participating in President Snow's (Donald Sutherland) propaganda war against the rebellion.

Most of the story has to do with the rebels' own propaganda assault, with Katniss starring in a series of documentaries about her travels and exploits (The film crew is another set of characters for the movie to introduce only to leave hanging). It starts in a room where special effects and fans try to recreate a battleground while Heavensbee shouts direction at his passionless leading lady (There's something quite amusing about the idea that the rebellion could fail because its symbol is a bad actress). Later, we see the assembled agitprop, which looks suspiciously like a movie trailer (and, for a brief moment, makes us think that director Francis Lawrence isn't quite onboard with the hype surrounding this material—not that such an attitude would be a bad thing).

Peter Craig and Danny Strong's screenplay (based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, who receives an "adaptation" credit) feels like its dragging its feet as it hits the same notes over and over again. Even the movie's aesthetic qualities, which were redefined for the better in the last film, are monotonous. It's a look of grays (from the world itself to the uniform coveralls worn by everyone in District 13) highlighted by red lights, in which even the Capitol—that ostentatious place of gaudy hair, makeup, and fashion—gets a black-out makeover.

The movie is a turn for the series—and a long one at that. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 spends so much time acquainting us with its new direction that the movie doesn't feel as if it has gotten anywhere by the time it reaches its finale (which is not so much a cliffhanger as it's just another plot point). Hope for the conclusion doesn't disappear, but optimism about it certainly wanes.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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