“Mockingjay” Teases with Two Hours of Battle Prep
Exactly one year ago, The Hunger Games franchise was in top-notch shape thanks to Catching Fire. The sequel stepped up to the plate as a series game-changer, the equivalent of say The Empire Strikes Back. So for the third installment Mockingjay – Part 1, there is even greater pressure to deliver.
Mockingjay – Part 1 was fated to be an incomplete film. Though that should come as little surprise. Mockingjay follows the recent trend of splitting lengthy source material like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. But the final book of the Suzanne Collins trilogy clocks in under 400 pages. The final Potter and Twilight books nearly double that.
Like the novel, Mockingjay – Part 1 follows a drastically different beat from the previous two films. The hype and spectacle of the Hunger Games is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) prepares for war in an underground base against the evil Capitol.
Preparation is the perfect word to describe Mockingjay – Part 1 too. It’s a prelude to the climactic showdown, one audiences only have to wait one more year for. In the meantime, director Francis Lawrence turns the film into an calculated chess match between District 13 and the Capitol. Katniss assumes her poster-child persona, “the Mockingjay” to rally the troops.
For two hours uneven hours, she’s limited to that one purpose. The rebel leaders, played by Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, suggest that Katniss star in propaganda videos. At first she’s on a futuristic green screen, intentionally wooden and uninspiring. Her character hardly evolves from Catching Fire and is even sidelined at times. But it’s not until she’s in the heat of the action that Katniss starts to shine in her role.
There’s no doubt Lawrence owns the role as she has the previous two films. The main difference here is trudging through the less interesting moments to get to the goods in Part 2. Fortunately, she’s not alone to carry the heavy weight of Part 1. The late Seymour Hoffman is a welcome return as Plutarch Heavensbee as are Elizabeth Banks as the oddly stylish Effie and Donald Sutherland as an even more venomous President Snow. Moore is a fine addition as Snow’s rebel counterpart, President Coin.
Josh Hutcherson pops in and out of the film as Peeta. For the little time he’s actually in the film via interviews, Hutcherson’s at his franchise-best this go-around. There’s a distant yin-yang going on between he and Katniss. It’s one of the more subtle, yet promising moments in Mockingjay.
Knowing that Mockingjay – Part 1 ends with a cliffhanger, the climax is a complete guessing game to non-readers. The film could have ended anywhere within that final 20-30 minutes. The tension finally picks up as any scene could have ended this installment. But the end result is just enough balance between a resolution and tease that satisfies as the breaking point.
Mockingjay – Part 1 falls short of its two predecessors, lacking the same punch and triumph. But by no means is it a complete letdown. Call it a financially obligatory cog, leading up to next year’s grand finale.