Following the monster success of last year's stunning Catching Fire, hopes for the two part finale hit an all-time high and the franchise enjoyed popularity rivaling that of a certain boy wizard people always seem to chatter away about. Unfortunately, Mockingjay- Part 1, the first half of this two-part extravaganza, disappoints and bores in more ways than one, and sadly trips up a franchise that had just found its stride and was building toward something incredible. By the time the chilling final scene cuts to black and forces us to wait another year before any type of plot resolution or pay-off is even plausible, viewers may be so exhausted from all the pointless meandering and astonishing lack of energy that they'll question whether or not the franchise can return to what it once was. It lacks the tone, pacing, and confidence that previously defined this blockbuster series, becoming something much less endearing and memorable.
Katniss Everdeen (an irritated Jennifer Lawrence) destroyed the arena where so many had perished, an act of defiance that finally lit the fuse and sent the entire nation of Panem spinning into total war. Her fiery spirit galvanizes millions into action and leads to her being nicknamed the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for a rebellion that so desperately needs it. The Capitol, the violent, oppressive government that organized the Hunger Games, responds in kind, killing any who support Katniss and torturing Peeta (a bruised, battered Josh Hutcherson) as twisted retribution for her refusal to cooperate. As the Capitol moves to crush a rapidly growing number of rebels, Katniss may have to choose between saving Panem and saving Peeta.
Mockingjay- Part 1 pissed me off and, even worse, bored me to sad, sad little pieces. About halfway through, I realized that I'd been examining my fingernails for a full five minutes while Katniss and company bitched, fought, and plotted onscreen, sapping my energy and my investment in a film that lost its way too easily, too soon. If I'm inspecting myself during a movie, some adjustments needed to be made in the filming and editing process. I understand the need to create build-up for what will surely be a mind-blowing conclusion, but it's absolutely imperative that we get some engaging, entertaining fare to chew on while we wait for the really good stuff. Francis Lawrence proved how capable and careful he is with Suzanne Collins' source material when he blew us away with Catching Fire, so you can imagine how disappointed I was when I realized what he was simply stalling instead of delivering a worthwhile moviegoing experience. It's like expecting spaghetti for dinner and getting your dog's steaming shit instead.
For the first time since she stepped into Katniss's shoes, Jennifer Lawrence looks done. Gone is the fiery energy, the passion, the charisma that made her such a treat to watch before. Her slapdash performance here disheartens and discourages, and supports the idea that Mockingjay would have been less exhausting if it had been trimmed and released upon the masses as one glorious three hour film. Liam Hemsworth enjoys his expanded role as Gale Hawthorne, and in some scenes even surpasses Lawrence's performance in sincerity and authenticity. Josh Hutcherson's Peeta Mellark sports the same tired, broken look as most of his co-stars, but his can be justified considering he spends most of the film being tortured. Franchise newbie Julianne Moore kills it as President Coin, the leader of the rebels and one hell of a hard-ass. Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Elizabeth Banks shine in what little screen time they're given, their playful banter adding much-needed levity to the film's grim events.
Numerous flaws aside, the movie continues to carry the emotional weight and political undertones that make the franchise so different from the countless other YA (young adult) book-to-movie adaptations that currently plague movie screens the world over. Mockingjay-Part 1 contains some truly compelling moments, many of them involving Hemsworth. It's just a shame that the film sacrificed more of these for useless, drawn-out schlock that exhausts and annoys.
At the end of the day, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1 proves to be nothing more than hastily thrown together set-up with little substance or appeal. Next year's Part 2 had better be something special.
2.5 out of 5 stars