The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

 Not very much happens in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. The studio’s decision to make two films from the final book in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy may have made sense from a business point of view – hey, it worked for Harry Potter and Twilight! – but dramatically, it’s a bad move. The filmmakers take roughly half an hour’s worth of plot and thinly spread it over two long hours, giving us a movie that feels half-baked and wanting.

Mockingjay – Part 1 sees Jennifer Lawrence’s renegade warrior Katniss Everdeen, newly rescued by the rebels of District 13, reluctantly join the uprising against the Capitol’s fascist leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Coerced by District 13’s icy resistance leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) into being the star of a series of rousing propaganda videos, Katniss is the face of the revolution. But it’s not all posturing and delivering slogans, as Katniss finds herself wracked by traumatic flashbacks, and focused only on saving Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who has been captured and turned into a mouthpiece for the government.
More yak-yak that fight back, the film unfolds largely in the bunkers of District 13, giving it a dull grey texture to match Katniss’ own somber mood. This movie’s most fatal flaw is that it leaves its leading lady to stand around like a spectator for most of its running time; she’s a passive heroine, far removed from the badass star of last year’s Catching Fire. Adrenalin junkies will have to make do with precisely one thrilling bit in which Katniss tries to bring down a swooping fighter plane with her bow and arrow.
In place of action, director Francis Lawrence offers big ideas, continuing the franchise’s tradition of satirizing the media. If the first film drew parallels to the manipulative business of reality TV, and the second was a biting comment on celebrity packaging, Mockingjay – Part 1 examines the staging and marketing of a televised revolution.
Jennifer Lawrence, delivering complexity and conviction, proves yet again that she’s a magnetic star with an arresting screen presence. It helps too that she’s surrounded by a first-rate ensemble that includes Moore, Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch), and particularly the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who brings sly wit to his role as Plutarch Heavensbee, the former gamesmaker now serving as advisor to President Coin.
Leaving us with more question marks than full-stops, the film never feels like a stand-alone piece of storytelling in the way that the previous two movies were. It’s skillfully mounted and competently enacted, but you’re going to wish you didn’t have to wait a whole year to see how it all ends. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

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