A Subtle Prelude to the Big Finale
To call The Hunger Games a phenomenon would be an understatement. It’s made Jennifer Lawrence a household name, generated over $300 million in box office revenues and has a die hard fan base. It even made archery cool again. Filled with interesting themes and good performances, the franchise satisfied young adults and jaded film critics alike. It’s the Harry Potter of the 2010’s.
As a prelude to the series finale, Hunger Games Number Three is a slower, less intense affair than its high flying predecessors. Much like the first Lord of the Rings, the latest run through Panem is the setup for the eventual sequel. Despite the dour tone and absent energy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is still a well-made entry into one of Hollywood’s most accessible series. This may not be the movie everyone wanted but it’s one that needs to exist.
After smashing the dome from Catching Fire into oblivion, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself deep in the bowels a destroyed District 12. Beneath the ruins, an underground resistance is being built by Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Torn between becoming the symbol of the revolution and her longing for Peeta (Josh Huctherson), the boy she left behind, Katniss begins her push to topple President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) evil regime.
A far cry from the previous two films, director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Hunger Games: Catching Fire) paints the resistance with a dark, dank brush. Gone are the vibrant colors and lively world of the Capital, replaced by a world strikingly similar to The Matrix Revolutions. Given the storyline, it all makes perfect sense but it’s a shock to see colorful characters like Effie (Elizabeth Banks) dressed in burlap brown.
More than ever, this is Katniss’ story and Jennifer Lawrence is again up to the task in her third turn as the arrow slinging fem fatale. Simply put, Lawrence nails playing a reluctant revolutionary. While the script calls for her to be more subdued than her former warrior persona, Lawrence pulls it together nicely. Aside from a few cracks where her love for Peeta borders on teenage obsession, she’s still one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood.
She also spends most of the picture weeping, which leads to some of the negatives. Mockingjay is a slow, deliberate and relatively action free affair. Revolutions aren’t built with epic set pieces. They’re born from quiet rumblings and while there are moments of excitment, we never see our favorite Games participant do much aside from scowl, cry and look around dazed. It’s tough to watch a famously strong character get reduced to a borderline victim, even if it’s required to push us toward the final film.
The plus side of the volume knob being turned down is a focus on theme. Katniss’ new crew of democracy hungry pals are the new boss, same as the old boss. Without the adrenaline of constant combat and survival, the central political strife effectively bubbles to the surface. What also surfaces is more of the clichés common in young adult literature. I’m a staunch believer in the “validity” of YA lit but Mockingjay – Part 1 suffers from hokey dialogue, a touch of melodrama and unrealistic relationships. For the first time in the series, it’s clear this was written for high schoolers.
But to hell with my haughty critic leanings. I’m still a fan. Saying this is the weakest of the three is like saying The Dark Knight Rises is the worst Batman film. Yeah, it’s not the best but it’s still quite good. Like the revolution it promises to start, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is the lit fuse connected to a pile of explosives. The slow burn isn’t very exciting but the end result should be a fireworks show of epic proportions. Lawrence is still great in the lead, the central political intrigue is interesting and the character’s zeal for love and country shines above the teenage drama and over-emoting.
Bring on the powder keg in 2015, Hunger Games. I’ll be anxiously awaiting a stunning conclusion.
Score: 7.5 out of 10