The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (2014) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): It’s still gathering fire yet

Mockingjaypt103 While enjoying its good moments, I sometimes became impatient during my viewing of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I”, but that problem is something expected from the very beginning. Based on the first half of its original novel, the movie is more or less than a build-up process for the finale to arrive in the next year, and that flaw becomes more evident as its best element becomes less prominent than before.

After her sudden social/political rise thanks to the dramatic victory in the annual survival game as shown in “The Hunger Games” (2012), our plucky heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) drew more attention and cautiousness as a potential initiator of political unrest in her oppressive dystopian world, so she and her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Jush Hutcherson) were eventually forced into another dangerous survival game in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013). She survived again in the end and then was rescued by the rebel force waiting for a chance of revolution, but Peeta and some of surviving game participants were captured, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) showed her clearly that he will do anything for squashing her and others resisting against the rule of the Capitol.

As her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) told her during the final scene of the previously film, their hometown, District 12, was nearly annihilated by the Capitol, and we see Katniss being devastated to see the gray ruins of District 12. Her mother and sister are luckily alive and currently protected by the rebel force, but many people of District 12 were killed just because of her defiant act against the Capitol, and her survivor’s guilt puts more strains on her mind which has already been burdened with many dark memories from her survival games.

Mockingjaypt106 But now things are getting far darker for everyone, and she is asked to do more as the emerging symbol of revolution to come. President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore with long white hair), the leader of the rebel force hiding beneath District 13, wants to use Katniss’ public image for inducing more rebellions around the other districts, and, though she has not completely recovered from her emotional traumas yet, Katniss accepts her new role as a propaganda tool while demanding a few conditions for their deal.

Like the previous films, the film provides us an amusing version of reality show as Katniss is assisted and coached by others for gaining more support from the people of other districts. They do a trial version of their propaganda, and then they do some brainstorming session for a more successful strategy to magnify Katniss’ appeal in public, and then Katniss finds herself going around bombarded sites while followed by the camera crew ready for her emotional moments to be broadcast. On the opposite, President Snow also begins his own propaganda to stop the initiation of revolution, and one of his main tools is none other than Peeta, who looks a little different as making arguments against Katniss and the rebel force during his prepared interviews.

The director Francis Lawrence, who directed the previous film, keeps things rolling as emphasizing a grim, dark tone hovering over everyone in the movie. Even while the Capitol punishes its dissidents with no mercy, more rebellions happen around the districts, and we get a brief but impressive moment involved with a group of lumberjacks attempting a revolt which will certainly demand considerable sacrifice at any chance. The situation is not exactly optimistic for Katniss and others while the Capitol still has the upper hand, but it becomes more apparent to everyone that something inevitable will happen sooner or later.

Mockingjaypt101 While all these things happen along the plot, Katniss is usually confined in the headquarters of the rebel force, so the movie does not have many action scenes for her in contrast to the previous films, but Jennifer Lawrence, who has always been the engaging human center of the franchise, carries the film with her solid performance as before. Lawrence can look plain while not drawing notices from others around her, but then she shines with her natural star quality during a number of key scenes in which Katniss is supposed to amplify the spirit of rebellion in front of the cameras as delivering her ‘performance’ as required. At the end of my review on “The Hunger Games”, I joked that Lawrence would be our insurance even if its sequels turned out to be disappointing, and she is indeed our insurance here in this film as an indomitable girl who can be brave and feisty even at her most vulnerable moment.

As another major actor added to the main cast, Julianne Moore exudes authority while not looking entirely trustworthy, and the returning cast members including Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Donald Sutherland, and Stanley Tucci are dependable although they are understandably less fun to watch because of the more serious tone of the film. Donald Sutherland enjoys every scene of his as a diabolical and ruthless tyrant, and Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks capture little precious moments of humor from their respective characters, and it is a bit sad to see late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles before his untimely death (the production of this film and the next film to be released in 2015 was almost finished when he died early in this year). I must point out that Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth feel more redundant than before as the boys Katniss care about, but that does not hurt the movie a lot because our eyes are usually drawn to Katniss rather than these two handsome but colorless guys who are merely a little more interesting than Bella Swan’s cardboard suitors in the Twilight movies.

As I said above, I was not bored during my viewing, but “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I” is visibly less entertaining than its predecessors. I did not read Susan Collin’s novel (Collins also adapted her novel along with Danny Strong and Peter Craig), but I could see the pace problem resulted from bloating one novel into two films, and the movie is too reluctant to move forward at times. Anyway, it did its job without damaging its franchise, and we can only hope that its defects will be compensated by the finale to be delivered later.


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