THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks
In the realm of movie sequels, nothing is worse that a two-parter. Actually, it's hard to be passionate about any sort of sequel, but a free pass is given to ones based on other mediums, like a popular book series. It's already been said about how obvious it seems that Lionsgate is hoping for huge payouts by splitting Mockingjay, the third and final book in the Hunger Games book trilogy, into two films. It worked for Harry Potter and Twilight. At this point, though, it would have been nicer to see Hollywood leave something as it is. That said, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is an exciting movie that does lead right up to a cliffhanger (if you can call it that) ending. To those of us who have read the books, it feels a little stretched in terms of pacing and action, but the lingering feeling of wanting to see more means it's easy to forgive a good story for its faults.
Jennifer Lawrence is back as the passionate lover and fighter Katniss Everdeen. Picking up right where Catching Fire left off, Mockingjay - Part 1 thrusts us into the depths of District 13, where Katniss and the refugees of Panem are bent on surviving until it's time to fight. The end of the Quarter Quell marked a new beginning for the fight against the Capitol and the disgustingly brilliant President Snow (Donald Sutherland). A new band of characters, led by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and the always-great Julianne Moore, help carry the story along as Katniss becomes the face of the revolution. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) gets more screen time as he spearheads the cause and hits the front lines. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) doesn't get as much, but there's a reason for that. With being a Part 1, there is no great resolve in any of the built-up action. The choice of where in the story to break at the end must have been somewhat difficult. They chose a great spot and even hilariously made it seem to end a bit earlier (the audience I was with was very vocal about it, followed by a quiet laugh when the next scene started).
Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) puts together a well-intentioned piece of the overall Hunger Games puzzle. The film's greatest downfall is, of course, the fact that it virtually has no payoff at the end. This, in turn, makes the film feel very stretched at points, especially when compared to the two previous Hunger Games films. This is the same effect Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy has experienced. Taking a singular item and turning it into multiple things only works when it's a Kit-Kat bar being shared with friends. This is even more true when a normal book-to-film adaptation leaves out key moments to fit within the normal film time constraints.
There are a few additions that are welcome, like the extra time given to Elizabeth Banks' Effie Trinket, arguably one of the best characterizations in recent book-to-film adaptations.
The great thing about the Hunger Games films is that the stories never become too young-adult schmaltz, like the Twilight series. This story lends itself to go either way. Luckily, the fight for freedom is presented in such a way as to take itself serious enough to be a good movie. There may even be some intentional or unintentional social commentary of the current political state of our own government mixed in there. The performances are great (Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong, right?) and the settings are always perfectly chosen (shout out to the Atlanta area locations that make appearances, like Sweetwater Creek, a great park near my hometown). The effects are sci-fi/fantasy perfection and the costumes should get more awards attention than they do.
Overall, everyone is seeing this movie, so it seems silly to even try to convince one way or another. It's a great time at the movies, despite the small things that distract from the overall whole. Part 2 can't get here quick enough.
Runtime: 123 minutes