The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I (2014)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Much like the videos being made across Panem, “Mockingjay: Part I” feels a bit like propaganda. Splitting “Mockingjay” into two parts made the franchise more money, sure. But it also delegated “Part I” to the role of lead-in, just the necessary step toward “Part II.” It’s the opening act, without the passion or the threat that anything too exciting might happen. Paying for “Mockingjay: Part I” is a long-term investment – with any luck, we’ll be paid with interest when “Part II” comes out and blows us away (we can only hope, right?). The film’s first hour and a half could have been slimmed down to about forty-five minutes of real substance. Not even the last half-hour, full of exciting twists and turns (mostly unpredictable, at least for someone that hasn’t read the books), could save this mess of a movie.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), against her better judgment, decides to embrace her role as the Mockingjay to unite the districts in a revolution against the Capitol. A Capitol, mind you, which continues to mercilessly bomb the districts in an effort to scare them into submitting to their dictatorial whims. Her motive, mostly, is to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from his captivity in the Capitol, where they’re making him their face of peace and reason. Under the direction of District President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss visits the surrounding districts in an effort to unite their forces. But soon, the Capitol will decide they must hit Katniss a little closer to home.
“Mockingjay: Part I” might prove that without an actual Hunger Games to watch, the backstory can only take this franchise so far. No games = no excitement. Instead, the thrills we experienced in “Catching Fire” are replaced by a focus on the characters’ relationships, most of which are filled with soap opera angst. Katniss and Gale (Liam, the Hemsworth brother that’s not the Sexiest Man Alive) have no passion, no chemistry. Jennifer Lawrence gives an uninspired, half-hearted effort. She makes it seem forced, propagandized. She’s not alone. Moore is just going through the motions. It’s funny to think she’s getting Oscar talk for another 2014 role, in “Still Alice.” She must have exhausted herself with the effort she put into that film. And Josh Hutcherson takes a leap back to how pitiable he was in the first “Hunger Games.” He treats this like a Disney Channel Original Movie. It’s a shame.
Even if “Mockingjay: Part I” is just a filler, the bridge from the excitement of “Catching Fire” to the franchise capper “Part II,” it was enough to make at least a couple teenage girls in the row behind me weep for all of the film’s final thirty minutes. So if you fit into that fan-girl demographic, ignore what I’ve written here. You’ve probably already decided you’re going to love “Mockingjay: Part I.” For the rest of you, knock your blockbuster expectations down a few notches and settle in for a long two hours.