The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Review

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Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
Based on the book “Mockingjay” by: Suzanne Collins
Adapted for the screen by: Peter Craig and Danny Strong
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Metacritic Score: 64
IMDb Score: 6.9
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe for Best Original Song “Yellow Flicker Beat” by Lorde and Joel Little

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material

You know, blame Tarantino for this. It’s okay, he more than makes up for it with everything else he’s made. But if he hadn’t split Kill Bill into two, no studio would ever want to break apart a story unless it’s financially viable. Hell, there’s a romantic drama…A ROMANTIC DRAMA…that was released in three parts! (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby). And just like all movies who attempt this, you’re left with a feeling of “I hope they end this right” when it’s all over.

After Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) survives the last Hunger Games, the entire capital and districts have been in a state of anarchy since she broke the force-field in the games. This has led to Peeta (Hutcherson) being captured by President Snow (Sutherland) while Katniss reluctantly becomes the symbol of the revolution to put President Coin (Moore) into power.

First off, fans of the previous Hunger Games need to prepare yourself: this is much more of a political thriller than anything else. The Hunger Games films all had some undertones of political intrigue, but this movie is by far and away all about political uprising and intrigue: call it Tom Clancy for the 11 – 21 crowd.

What that means is this film is full of exposition and the building up of the final confrontation between the rebels and the capital…and that’s about it. To get the prime question out-of-the-way: the movie does a good job setting up for that last film.

But can the film stand up on its own as a quality film? The honest answer is no, but only compared to the other Hunger Games films. It also hurts that this comes after the excellent Catching Fire movie that came out a few years ago, but this doesn’t make Mockingjay Part 1 a bad film: it just makes it a weak addition to the franchise.

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Like mentioned in the beginning of this review, this film focuses much more on political intrigue and the building of a revolution than the thrilling action/suspense of the previous films. The thing is: The Hunger Games never did a great job of providing the subtlety necessary to create an in-depth personification of the type of squalor these repressed people were under. They were literally just a backdrop to the actual Games, so as interesting as it may have been, they weren’t fully fleshed out in any way.

This provides a real problem for this film, because the film is trying to be much more than a good/bad regime change movie and it largely squander mainly due to lack of build up from the previous films. And if you haven’t seen the other films, the movie gives you little reason to care for either side, except for the fact that Katniss is on the one side you are seeing most.

The movie also makes one thing starkly clear: Katniss, Peeta and Gale are really the only three characters that have any type of depth in this series. Everyone else, from Haymitch to President Snow (by the way, who named these characters?) are just dead-on one-dimensional characters who were just meant to provide something to bring more attention to the Games.

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Basically, the one thing the film does right, and it does it in a big way, is give the overall world more of a sense of place. Moving through districts and seeing the destruction of settings familiar to the viewers provide some powerful imagery as well as excellent set-up. But again, all this does is set up the following movie, leaving this film to be no more than an appendix to a story.

Performance range from typically strong (Lawrence always overachieves the material the script gives her) to what can literally feel like watching great actors phone in. Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey Wright: all great actors who have literally nothing to do in this movie but read lines and portray one or two different emotions. Wasteful use of such good actors.

Basically, this movie will test how much you want to see a resolution to the overall story. If you’ve been a fan of the series of films and want more, the movie gives you more. Just in a fan-fictiony sort of way that’s half done. If you’re, like me, enjoy the first two films for what they are (visceral thrillers devoid of interesting characters save Katniss), the film does one central thing right: fleshed out Katniss more.

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Now, I know a lot of you are going to think that it’s unfair to critique a film that is unfinished. I disagree: there are plenty of films that are 2 – 4 hours long that have no plot to speak off yet can be entertaining or fulfilling in many ways.

Mockingjay Part 1 is the Kill Bill Vol. 1 of the Hunger Games franchise: a film that is sorely lacking in development of characters, but full of spectacle that feels empty. The only hope we have now is that the next film will fulfill not only this movies holes, but will also close out a film franchise that has been largely a good franchise.

On a side note: I love the song “Yellow Flicker Beat”

2/5 – Weakest of the franchise thus far: its political thriller trappings fall flat and are bouyed only by Lawrence

The Wiz Says #16

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