The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

film mockingjay_smCalling the film “uneven” is being generous; it doesn’t seem a stretch to call it outright bad.

 

 

 

film mockingjay

Let’s recap previously published thoughts and opinions of mine regarding The Hunger Games: I haven’t read the books. The first half of the first Hunger Games movie sucks, but the second half is pretty good. Catching Fire is probably the best movie to result of the recent YA book/movie boom.

Now that you’re caught up, you’ll understand that I was looking forward to the clunkily titled The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, given that the first two films were pretty successful, particularly Catching Fire, which shares its director, Francis Lawrence (no relation), with Mockingjay.

Mockingjay, though, is uneven. And that’s being generous; it doesn’t seem a stretch to call it outright bad, though it is peppered with good scenes and amusing moments, so it isn’t a total embarrassing waste of time. The first half hour feels tonally wrong: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in District 13, trying to get herself together, all the while being courted to be “the mockingjay” (i.e., leader of the rebellion) by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Coin (Julianne Moore). During these opening scene,s the film is muddled and uninvolving, with some occasional Holocaust-like imagery (and, later, 9/11 imagery, as if references to great human travesties are the only way to depict stakes in a film like this), and America’s favorite young actress emotes all over the place, trying to figure out how to save the wooden Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the Capitol. But then, all at once, the movie remembers how to be good. In a scene between Lawrence, Hoffman, and Moore, Heavensbee gets all excited about Katniss as a leader, and it looks like the film is going to go the way of the first Hunger Games: start off slow, but eventually turn thoroughly enjoyable. But no: It goes right back to being pretty bad, and such is the pattern for the rest of the movie: three bad scenes, one good scene, three bad scenes, one good scene, etc.

Mockingjay is at its best when Hoffman, Woody Harrelson (as Katniss’ alcoholic mentor, Haymitch Abernathy), and/or Elizabeth Banks (another of Katniss’s guides, the vain Effie Trinket) are on the screen. Some otherwise great actors, to include Lawrence and Jeffrey Wright, seem to be phoning it in, and we need them, as the story isn’t quite as unified here as it was the previous two Hunger Games movies (of course, given that this one is just an adaptation of the first half of a novel). That all said, at least Hoffman seems to be having a good time. Strange though it may seem, I’d venture that he’s better here than he was in his final lead role in A Most Wanted Man earlier this year.

Though I only have other people’s word to go on, popular opinion dictates that the book Mockingjay is the worst of the trilogy, and in that regard, the film Mockingjay Part 1 isn’t all that bad. But then, it is the worst of the first three films, so maybe it’s not that far off from the source material. Here’s hoping that Part 2 finds a way to reach the heights of, say, Catching Fire. | Pete Timmermann

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