By Bob Garver
Nov. 24, 2014. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is probably going to be the biggest movie of 2014. The two previous “Hunger Games” films have both made over $400 million at the domestic box office. “Mockingjay – Part 1” can afford to make $90 million less than its predecessor, “Catching Fire” and still make more money than this year’s current leader, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” at $331 million. Yes, the “Hunger Games” franchise seems unstoppable right now, except that “Mockingjay – Part 1,” more than any competition, may be just the thing to stop it.
The story once again follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she struggles to stay alive following her escape from the arena and her second Hunger Games in “Catching Fire.” Her survival does not sit well with the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who sees her as a symbol of rebellion in the brutal continent of Panem (though her motives actually have to do more with self-preservation than big-picture upheaval). She’s taken in by the “lost” District 13, led by the frill-less President Coin (Julianne Moore), who wants to use Katniss to unite the other Districts in a rebellion against The Capitol and Snow.
Katniss has no interest in being a military leader, even a symbolic one, but she is interested in the favors that the militarized District 13 can do for her, like rescuing her partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from imprisonment in The Capitol. This strategy backfires for Katniss when Snow starts targeting her and her loved ones more than ever before, but clearly that response is going to backfire on Snow once Katniss decides to target him. This film deals mostly with the “him targeting her” part.
And therin lies the problem with splitting the “Mockingjay” book into two movies. I’ve never read “Mockingjay,” but I’m guessing that things get worse before they get better, but they do get better. Here things just get worse. Katniss and the rest of Panem suffer devastating losses in the movie and Snow suffers a few mild inconveniences. Even a symbolic victory at the end is heavily tainted. I’m not saying that good things necessarily have to happen to our heroes, but the movie lacks uplifting moments where I know uplifting moments ought to be.
Cheer is very much missing from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.” I miss the pomp and pageantry, the sickening luxury of THe Capitol. Come to think of it, I miss The Hunger Games themselves. True, they were never organized or explained as well as they should have been, but at least it was fun to speculate on how long minor characters would last and how they would be eliminated. If the series is going to be called “The Hunger Games,” I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect each movie to feature a Hunger Games.
Maybe Snow could recapture Katniss and put her back in the arena with 23 assassins with orders to take her out at the first opportunity. Or put her up against 23 impoverished peasants to show the rest of Panem how much compassion she really has for other people. I’d take pretty much anything compared to the lame “slowly picking away at The Capitol from District 13” angle.
There are just enough powerful moments in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” to keep it from being truly terrible. Usually, it involves heartfelt speeches from Katniss. I’ll admit, there were a few times where I whispered to myself, “There’s the Jennifer Lawrence that won the Oscar.”
But, overall, this is a dreary, unpleasant movie. It isn’t going to be remembered as anyone’s favorite “Hunger Games” installment, nor does it do an effective job of building anticipation for the grand finale a year from now. All it does is make me wonder even more how anybody can care at all about this numbingly bleak franchise.
One and a half stars out of five.