The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I

Yep, the future still sucks. Academy Award winners Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Academy Award nominees Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Julianne Moore star in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I.

Mockingjay Part ICast of Characters:
Katniss Everdeen – Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellark – Josh Hutcherson
Gale Hawthorne – Liam Hemsworth
Haymitch Abernathy – Woody Harrelson
Effie Trinket – Elizabeth Banks
President Alma Coin – Julianne Moore
Plutarch Heavensbee – Philip Seymour Hoffman
Beetee Latier – Jeffrey Wright
Caesar Flickerman – Stanley Tucci
President Coriolanus Snow – Donald Sutherland

Director – Francis Lawrence
Screenplay – Danny Strong & Peter Craig
Based on the novel Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Producer – Nina Jacobson & Jon Kilik
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material

Following the events that took place in Catching Fire, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has has been captured by the Capitol, and is now used as a propaganda tool against Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Worse, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has ordered that anyone caught supporting the rebellion will deemed guilty of treason.

To counterattack, former Gamemaker turned rebellion fighter Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes up with a plan to use Katniss as a propaganda tool against the Capitol, which they’ll use to help free Peeta and the other victors who have been taken hostage by President Snow.

Mockingjay – Part I has a lot riding on it, not just for having to wrap up the series with a bang, but also that it’s following two great adaptations (The Hunger Games and Catching Fire). Following the way the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hobbit franchises have gone, Mockingjay has been split into two films. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to understand why. A book and film series as popular as this, the studio’s gonna milk this to the very last drop, but the result for this film is a step back for the franchise.

Directed by Francis Lawrence (who directed Catching Fire) and bringing in Danny Strong and Peter Craig (both new to this series) to pen the script, Mockingjay – Part I might’ve worked better as one 2 1/2 hour film instead of two separate films that will end up totaling four hours. At times, the story feels stretched out and repetitive. We get more rallying speeches from Julianne Moore (whose talent still provides a good performance to an underwritten character), and although Mockingjay turning into essentially Wag the Dog is one of the film’s highlights (Hoffman coaching Lawrence on their first propaganda piece is a great moment), it’s still a plot development that goes on longer than needed.

There’s also a song from Katniss that could’ve been reduced to a maudlin tug on our heartstrings, but Lawrence finds a way to make it beautiful and heartbreaking. However, its impact is slightly reduced as the rebels go on and on with it in a sing-along march to the Capitol.

All things considered, this is not a bad film at all, and continues the story effectively, even though the decision for two films is purely to make more money than for the sake of the story (they were able to handle so many colorful characters so well in the first two films, so it’s not like the split was needed). Francis Lawrence turns things darker and more somber, both in tone and style, than what we’ve gotten from these films so far, which hints at even darker things to come. The film has its setbacks, but picks itself back up with a thrilling final act that involves the rescue of the kidnapped victors, and after recently getting young adult dystopian hell holes thrown at us one after the other, the Hunger Games series still stands above the rest as the best.

Jennifer Lawrence is on her game once again as the lead heroine Katniss. Even though we’re once again watching her go back and forth as she reluctantly decides to assume the role of the rebels’ heroin, Lawrence has commanded this role with a refreshingly grounded approach from her very first appearance to now.

And of course, we have the supporting cast, which, along with Lawrence, has been one of the key components to these films’ success. Veteran presences Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman are welcome presences that bring a blend of gravitas and humor to their roles. Donald Sutherland clearly relishes every second he gets to be that man you just love to despise. Over the course of the series, the adorably charming Elizabeth Banks has infused more and more humanity into a character that started out as a shrill, annoying clown, and Josh Hutcherson provides more depth to Peeta that what we’ve gotten from him so far. I’m not saying Hutcherson was wasted in the past two films, but come the third act, what becomes of his character is quite effectively shocking.

It lacks the punch of the first two entries, and about 10 minutes of repetitive footage could’ve stayed on the editing room floor. Yet, for all its faults, Mockingjay – Part I is still a solid entry in the Hunger Games series thanks to its uniformly talented A-list cast and the top-notch set design and visuals we’ve come to expect with this franchise. It may feel underwhelming at times, but if the final 15 minutes are any indication, the best has yet to come.

I give The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I a B (★★★).

REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…

11/24/14        What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
11/25/14        Benjamin’s Stash
11/27/14        Horrible Bosses 2
11/28/14        Penguins of Madagascar
11/29/14        Reach Me
11/29/14        The Theory of Everything

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