Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is back with a vengeance in the third and almost final installment of Suzanne Collins' thrilling, yet dark trilogy written for young adults. Unfortunately, Lionsgate, in their infinite wisdom, has chosen to make into two films what I fear (I haven't read any of the books) could have been accomplished in one.
Awakening in District 13 after the disastrous end to the games in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire", Katniss is prevailed upon to take on the leadership role as the symbol Mockingjay in the revolution against President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who is as evil as ever. She resists initially until she is permitted to travel to her former home, District 12, to view the death and destruction wrought upon its residents by Snow. With her best childhood friend, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hensworth), standing by, she begins to fully recover.
When Katniss learns that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is indeed alive and being held in The Capitol, and enduring a sinister brain-washing, she jumps into action. Spearheading all of the districts in Panem, she and President Coin (Julianne Moore) must lead the rebels of District 13 to war to save their world.
The rest of the fun cast is present: Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee. They are all as delightful and entertaining as before, with Effie being a particular breath of fresh air in the otherwise drab and communistic-looking District 13. Having everyone dress alike, even President Coin, in dark colored trousers and matching shirts, is more than a tad depressing, but leave it to Effie to find the humor in all of that.
The saddest part of "Mockingjay - Part 1" is not the transformation of Peeta --- it is the appearance of Philip Seymour Hoffman reprising his role as Plutarch Heavensbee. It is incredibly difficult to believe he has been dead all these months, and I wanted to weep every time he was on screen --- such a wonderful actor --- and such a waste.
Though I absolutely appreciate and admire Ms. Moore as an actress, casting her as President Coin feels like a mistake. Whereas Lawrence takes command as Katniss/Mockingjay, Moore does not exude the strong leadership presence necessary for this role.
"Mockingjay - Part 1" is merely the setup for the big pay-off in "Part 2". Though I completely understand the thought process behind the decision, there simply isn't enough action in "Part 1" to justify a separate movie. Unlike the ending of the "Harry Potter" series, which was also filmed in two parts, Lionsgate's motivation for dividing "Mockingjay" appears monetarily-based only.
I enjoyed watching Katniss and her merry band of revolutionaries much more than David, who struggled mightily to stay awake. One of the notable newbies in "Part 1" is Cressida played by Natalie Dormer of "Game of Thrones" fame. She's a pip --- as great here as she is in "Thrones".
Directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), with a decent screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, "Mockingjay - Part 1" is a satisfactory lead-in for "Part 2". The production design by Philip Messina is extraordinary, as it was in the first two films. The other unfortunate aspect of this division is that "Mockingjay - Part 2" will not be released until a year from now. By then, who will remember --- or care --- about the outcome of Panem?
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
I have to be perfectly honest with this review, and it won't be pretty in terms of the reactions it might generate, not the least of which will be from my college-age daughter. I was bored.
Yes, readers of Suzanne Collins' novels may call me a heretic, and I realize that fans of her trilogy probably anticipate these films like no other. Interestingly, a fellow critic who attended the same screening as Jeanne and me was wildly enthusiastic about this movie, and guess what? She had read the books.
Now, before anyone calls me unaware --- that includes you, Jeanne --- I realize that the filmmakers are setting up the conclusion to all this madness with "Mockingjay - Part - 2", due out in 2015. This is reminiscent of "Harry Potter" which did likewise while gearing up for the big finale of that series. All well and good, and certainly one can't argue about the obvious slew of tickets "Part 1" will sell. But I couldn't wait for this movie to end. Far too many sluggish scenes to make it remotely exciting.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen overacts, maybe because she has very little to do action-wise. As the centerpiece of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1", she stares into the camera and cries --- a lot. She does manage to shoot down a couple of fighter planes with a single arrow --- what the heck, it's science fiction --- but she's mostly seen walking around the rubble of District 13 while deciding if she should lead the uprising against the despotic President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Talents like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson are wasted, given little to do other than utter throw-away lines. In one scene, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) extends a warning to alert Katniss and the other rebels that an attack is coming. Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson) responds by telling everyone around him "that was a warning" --- really?
Hoffman returns as Plutarch Heavensbee, and even the screening audience was snickering at his lines. Hoffman died with only a week of filming remaining, but he is still listed in the cast of "Part 2". Hopefully his last appearance on the big screen next year will be worthy of this brilliant actor's career.
Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks), sans make-up and wild attire, and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), not on stage as the emcee, but sitting in an easy chair interviewing Peeta, are mere shadows of their characters from the first two films. But this is understandable, assuming that their usual panache will be front-and-center in the finale.
Of the new characters introduced, the most prominent is Julianne Moore as President Coin of District 13 in Panem. Sporting a gray wig, Moore spends most of her time as a cheerleader in front of a microphone, inciting enthusiasm among the throngs of Katniss supporters. It's a rather flat performance from the usually infallible actress.
"Mockingjay - Part 1" has none of the creativity and wonder of the first installment in the series, or the second, for that matter. And the poster promoting the movie is the first that doesn't depict Katniss Everdeen, the great archer, in her familiar bow-and-arrow stance. That should tell you something.
Opinion: Mild Wait for DVD