‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1’: Excitement interrupted

November 21, 2014

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At this point, it seems pretty pointless to review a new entry in “The Hunger Games” series.

If you’re not already interested, you’re unlikely to plug in and buy a ticket to see this film, just as the story revs up for its conclusion. It would be a little like going to see the third “Hobbit” movie after skipping the first two.

On the other hand, if you are hooked on the dystopian tale of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and friends, nothing a critic says is going to quell your urge to see the next installment. 

For those just joining the fray, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1″ is the third film in the series, based on the third and final book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. But Hollywood being Hollywood, that final volume has been split into two films. Perhaps the “Part 1” in the title gave that away.

Having been rescued from her second Hunger Games by a rebel alliance, Katniss finds herself in the underground world of District 13. Long thought to be bombed into extinction, the residents – led by their own president, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) – are spearheading the burgeoning insurgency against the vicious President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss becomes a pawn in that struggle. Snow manipulates her by torturing Peta (Josh Hutcherson), then using him on propaganda broadcasts. The rebels, with propaganda designed by defector Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), strike back with a message of their own, rallying the insurgency even as they attract more attacks.

Director Francis Lawrence recognizes that this chapter, while built around two extended action sequences, is about the drama: the stresses that being a symbol have on Katniss, who would rather be out fighting the Capital. She’s also torn between Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and the absent Peta, who she wanted to save in the Hunger Games.

Like every other franchise that cashed in by splitting the final episode to double the box office, this chapter suffers. What should be the scene that triggers the rousing finale instead winds up as an artificial ending in itself.

Still, all the big emotions are there, as Katniss confronts the depths to which Snow will sink to maintain his power. The tragic results of his brutality are the goad for Katniss’ decisions to become the symbol the rebels need her to be.

But Lawrence also invests the character with an intelligent skepticism, which she applies to the scheming of both presidents. Moore’s President Coin has a Stalinesque quality (though Moore’s gray wig makes it appear that she’s auditioning for the Emmylou Harris biopic) that makes it obvious that the new boss will be the same as the old boss. Revolutions, after all, often outstrip the systems they topple in their restrictiveness and cruelty.

As a part of the “Hunger Games” series, “Mockingjay, Part 1” works. But I’d be lying if I said that it could stand on its own. That, of course, is the difference between a good sequel and a good movie.

 

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