The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)

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Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Craig and Danny Strong

Rated PG-13

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee
Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin
Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow
Natalie Dormer as Cressida
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair

The action that propelled the two previous installments of The Hunger Games series has stalled somewhat in a less thrilling third movie. The greedy studio unwisely decided to split up the final book in Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed, bestselling trilogy. What worked so well for the final Harry Potter did not work for the final Twilight. This entry in The Hunger Game series is a good deal better than the first installment of Twilight’s Breaking Dawn conclusion, but viewers are conditioned to expect more action by the time Mockingjay arrives.

What we do get is another stellar performance by Girl on Fire herself, Jennifer Lawrence. This generation’s answer to Julia Roberts is an original, and she continues to kill it as reluctant warrior Katniss Everdeen. Maintaining her status as the main adversary to The Capital’s President Snow (perfectly cast Donald Sutherland, always great – and with menacing eyebrows adding to his character’s effect). The totalitarian society has been turned upside down following the events of Catching Fire, in which Katniss destroyed the arena, and the others were presumed dead, save for Finnick (Sam Calfin).

Katniss is now being recruited to serve as the symbol of the revolution – the “Mockingjay” – for the underground District 13. Despite a recommendation by former Gatekeeper Heavensbee (late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss is still reeling from the destruction of her home, District 12, by the ruthless Capital. Meanwhile, President Alma Coin (well-cast Julianne Moore, Hoffman’s Boogie Nights co-star) agrees to Katniss’ terms, once our heroine discovers her dear Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is alive, and seemingly being used as a pawn by the nefarious Snow.

Mockingjay stays afloat thanks to some solid character development that took a backseat to the action in the two previous films. Katniss has never seemed more conflicted or resistant – everything is at stake, and she still can’t pinpoint her affection for Peeta. Meanwhile, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is sober and thus more sensible. Effie White (priceless Elizabeth Banks) has been stripped of her flamboyance, and we get a better glimpse of her deep and true feelings for Katniss. Moore’s President Coin is compassionate and steadfast, a tried and true leader. One can only wish she goes up against Sutherland’s Bad Guy Snow in next year’s final film.

Where the film suffers is with the underdeveloped love triangle involving Katniss, courageous Peeta, and the intense, brooding Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The role of Gale is so barely-there, he makes Twilight’s eternally (and annoyingly) brooding Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) seem positively complex. It’s easy to see why Katniss would prefer the more articulate Peeta, despite Gale’s gifts in the good looks department. Unless she does prefer Gale. Who knows? And does it matter? By now, we know The Hunger Games is really The Katniss Everdeen Show. The year’s most thrilling, invigorating, and original dystopian thriller remains Snowpiercer. See Mockingjay once, for sure, but repeated viewings should be directed elsewhere.

In the end, Mockingjay is an entertaining time at the movies, but instead of leaving the theatre desperately wanting more, audiences are likely to know they’ve been had, having just viewed the filler before the much-anticipated final chapter.

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