From the end of the first Hunger Games movie, we knew that there was an inevitable way for it to end. There is going to be a revolution. The government — here called “The Capitol” — is evil and repressive, and you can’t let them maintain power forever, can you? So, here we have Mockingjay, which was a single book that has been split into two films, because Harry Potter and Twilight proved that you can make a lot of money doing that, even if you don’t necessarily get good movies. There is no better way to prove that Hollywood is a business, not a way to make good art, than looking at how it splits up films like this.
The story, this time out, focuses almost solely on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who now lives with her family underground in District 13, somewhere we previously believed had long been destroyed. After the events at the end of the last film, District 12 has been bombed to smithereens, so 13 was the only safe place to survive. Of course, its mayor, Coin (Julianne Moore), and the returning Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have plans for her. They’re going to use Katniss as a way to further inspire revolution.
Katniss isn’t entirely on-board, especially when she sees Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on the television sets, saying exactly the opposite. But she’s coerced, and then the rest of the film is about her trying to convince the other districts, through a series of propaganda, to fight back against the Capitol. That’s about it. There’s about 45 minutes of story stretched into two hours in Mockingjay — Part 1.
Now, there is at least a small arc to the plot, and it does have a beginning and a conclusion, but the fact of the matter is that this is half of a movie whose content and pacing has been slowed down in order to make you wait another year and spend another $12 in order to view it. There isn’t a lot here, and after you watch it, you find yourself still waiting for the inevitable revolution. Not much of consequence happens in Mockingjay — Part 1, especially when compared to the previous Hunger Games installments.
That doesn’t mean it’s boring. Watching Katniss wander around bombed-out locales or delivering inspirational speeches isn’t going to be dull, especially with how invested you presumably are by this point in the franchise. But it does feel thin, and it’s not likely to bring about the same level of emotions that earlier films. One scene has Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, relegated to a very background role) asking the characters what moments were Katniss’ most inspirational. If audiences are polled with the same question, none of them are going to be from this movie.
Fans hoping for a lot of action will be disappointed. There’s one bombing scene that’s kind of exciting, but that’s about it. A raid happens late in the proceedings, but it’s terribly dull, especially in comparison to how much potential it had. And that’s it. Mostly, we’re talking about revolution, how horrible the government is, and how Peeta must be being controlled, because how could he say things like “a war will result in mutual annihilation,” even though that could be a very likely result?
Because Mockingjay — Part 1 focuses primarily on Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is front and center. She seemed more awkward this time around. Part of that is intentional — her character isn’t entirely sure how to be a revelatory leader — but even in other scenes, like quiet talks with her close friends, something seemed off. It’s her worst Hunger Games performance, anyway. Everyone else, even those who had primary roles in earlier films, are very much in the supporting cast here. Elizabeth Banks returns for a few scenes, Woody Harrelson hangs around for a bit, Josh Hutcherson appears mostly on TV, and Liam Hemsworth … should stop being in movies. The trio of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and Jeffrey Wright provide reliable “good” cast members, while Donald Sutherland and Stanley Tucci are about the only evil Capitol members we get to see.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 is easily the weakest of the Hunger Games movies, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s got about 45 minutes of plot stretched out to two hours, which means it’s slow-paced and not a whole lot of consequence happens. It’s all building up to the next installment, which means that it’s a must-watch for anyone planning to see how this series ends. It’s full of politically fueled speeches and people looking somber, all while stuck underground waiting for the real action to start. The penultimate Hunger Games suffers from the problems most of these “Part 1″ films have, but that also means that the series’ finale is likely to be great. Here’s hoping.