Following Hollywood's Latest Model, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Delays The Inevitable

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
Director: Francis Lawrence.
Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay); Suzanne Collins (novel).
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Playing At: Wide.

The rebellion has started. War has begun.

Yes, if you are reading this, you are well aware of where we are at in the Hunger Games film franchise. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the Mockingjay, a warrior and symbol of hope for the now 11 poverty-stricken districts that once complied to all rules set by an evil empire called The Capitol, as run by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Because of Katniss' defiance, the people of the districts together have started to rebel — and a lot, I mean a lot, have died in the process because they believe that Katniss will eventually take down the Capitol and true justice will be restored.

At the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second film in the franchise, Katniss was being airlifted out of the Third Quarter Quell to the safety District 13, the district that tried to take down the Capitol long ago, and failed, and is now hidden underground and ready for a fight. Here, Katniss learned of the new, fierce rebellion that has started because of her bravado against the Capitol in the last Hunger Games — a performance that lit a fire inside everyone with a bone to pick against the Capitol. But Katniss does not feel strong enough to be “The One.” She sees herself as a survivor, not a leader. Alas, the war has started and she has no choice and, as we all know, she'll eventually will need to stand tall.

Another thing we know: Her sidekick and lover, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), was captured by the Capitol as the rebels were rescuing her out of the Quarter Quell, and Snow is using him as bait to keep Katniss' rebellious side at bay. One false move, and Peeta will no longer be a P.O.W., but D.E.A.D instead.

Yeah, Catching Fire was pretty fun. Unfortunately, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 isn't nearly as delicious as the series' second installment.

Still, it should satisfy fans of the books.

But, as for the rest of us, the ones who've only invested our time in the films? Well, not so much.

The acting isn't to blame for Mockingjay – Part 1's disappointment; the players here are all terrific. Elizabeth Banks charmingly makes Effie Trinket always spectacularly twee, even in times when she has to slum it. Woody Harrelson almost steals the show once again as the lovable loser Haymitch Abernathy. And throughout the film, every character — there are a lot at this point — has at least one significant scene.

Unsurprisingly, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin of District 13 both shine with theirs. These two have shared some tough but remarkable scenes together in past movies (Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia most notably), and it's a real treat watching them side by side in this film. It's also really important to point out that this is Hoffman's last role in the wake of this tragic death last February. The good news, if there is any, is that his character here is a really exceptional one, a role well worthy of being his last.

Another strength of Mockingjay – Part 1 is its cinematography. When Katniss learns that her home district (District 12) is now in ruins, she goes to see it for her self. As she's walking through it, she discovers that she's walking on bones and skulls — or one large tombstone, basically — and we, the viewers, come to this realization just as she does. It's a chilling moment.

Of course, the major handicap of Mockingjay – Part 1 is that just that — part one of two films made from one book.

Splitting a last book into two films with a popular franchise seems to be the route Hollywood wants to take now — and, to be sure, it worked well enough for Harry Potter. The bad side of this here is that it makes the third film in the Hunger Games franchise feel especially dreadful. Mockingjay – Part 1 is, essentially, a bloated melodrama peppered with a little striking action here and there. But we're really not given much story. Ironically, Mockingjay – Part 1, which clocks in at two and a half hours, is stretched too thin.

Now, granted, I haven't read the books. But it really feels as if Mockingjay would have been more of a rewarding watch if released as a single film. Instead, we have to wait another year for Katniss to stop crying and being so goddamn wishy-washy in her feelings about being a warrior and a fighter even though she has a whole army standing right behind her.

To get a better idea of what Mockingjay – Part 1 is, think of it like this: This is Empire Strikes Back. Hope is losing its grip. But here's the difference: Empire works because, though Luke and his posse are fighting a losing battle, they are, at least, fighting. In Mockingjay – Part 1, Katniss spends most of her time teary-eyed, giving up without a fight and deciding which hunk she wants more, Peeta or Gale (Liam Hemsworth). There is a really great scene in the film when she roars to the Capitol, “If we burn, you burn with us!,” but then we see her back with tears streaming down her face.

It's just exhausting.

And, really, this is a studio decision problem. We get it: Katniss is vulnerable and not all that comfortable being the sole beacon of hope for humanity. We also expect that, eventually (like, say, in Mockingjay – Part 2) she'll gain back her fierce defiance and hunger to take out the bad guys.

Giving us the former now and making us wait a whole year for the latter is just obnoxious — and a clear attempt to squeeze every dollar out of what's clearly been a successful film franchise.

C'mon, Hollywood. Quit jerking us around.

Grade: C-.

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