Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rebel with a Cause: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” Lacks the Energy of Its Predecessors

“Mockingjay – Part 1” is flawed; just look at its title (the “Part 1” portion). This is one half of a movie, and like the last Harry Potter and many other young adult film adaptations, the movie-going public is forced to pay to sit through a movie that’s half finished. That would be fine and dandy if this first half of “Mockingjay” had a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It’s more of a really long beginning and some of a middle. Besides the structural issues, the movie is dank and bleak as was heavily implied by the dour cliffhanger ending of the outstandingly entertaining last entry. There’s nothing particularly wrong or bad about “Mockingjay – Part 1” but it essentially lacks the spark (no pun intended) of last year’s “Catching Fire.”

I get that the film would have Hunger Games survivor and District 12 heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, who could play this role in her sleep by now) riddled with survivors guilt and suffering from post-traumatic stress. But the closing shot of “Catching Fire” showed a face ready for retaliation. Instead, we’re given cowering Katniss who must be coaxed into becoming and being marketed as the symbol of the rebellion. But hasn’t she been that for the last two movies? Ever since volunteering for her younger sister it has become the catalyst for the uprising. So I expected some more actual uprising. Instead we trod into the depths of the mysterious District 13 which is almost run in a similar police state by steely President Coin (Julianne Moore) but without the couture of the Capitol.  Of course, this place isn’t nearly as bad as actually being ruled by the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his malevolent regime who insist on murdering members of the districts on live TV who show the slightest attempt at revolting. District 12 was destroyed but we’re only shown the aftermath.

The film’s plot is basically “let’s train Katinss to be the voice of rebellion – the Mockingjay, if you will – by hiring a propaganda film crew to follow her every move and intimidate the Capitol.” Some familiar faces show up to help including Jeffrey Wright’s tech guru Beetee, a sobered up Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and former gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman). Luckily, self-proclaimed refugee Effie (Elizabeth Banks) shows up to brighten things up a bit even if she’s forced into wearing grey rags. The emphasis in this third outing is definitely the love aspect which always felt quite shoehorned in this series anyways. Katniss does love Gale (Liam Hemsworth) but she’s also quite concerned about Peeta (Josh Hutchinson) as he’s been captured by the Capitol and completely brainwashed. It’s also a shame the movie can’t find anything interesting to do with Finnick (Sam Claflin) who was such an interesting character the first time around. And seriously missing is Johanna, also captured by the Capitol, who was also fascinating in “Catching Fire.”

The problem here isn’t director Francis Lawrence whose second entry improved immensely upon the already pretty great first film, but the script by Danny Strong and Peter Craig who fill the movie with so many political statements and allegories that it forgets to have any fun whatsoever. The suspense and excitement is replaced by stillness and exposition and waiting to see when the heck the final battle will actually begin. There are some fleeting moments of revolting and tension (as entertaining as bombings can be these days), and we get to see Katniss take out a bomber jet with her bow, but it’s all essentially just a tease. Even if the film exists as a setup for the ultimate conclusion it at least has a reason to exist, we just have to wait a little bit longer for the good stuff. It’s a decent appetizer for what is sure to be a delicious main course.  GRADE: B- 

Trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 on TrailerAddict.