Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymor Hoffman
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: November 21st
Ah, the curse of the “Part One” syndrome that has afflicted modern cinema’s literature adaptations. Did the last Twilight movie really need to be a two-parter? Does anyone voluntarily sit down to watch Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part One? Did the slim-line Hobbit novel need to be trisected? No, no and no. The difference with Mockingjay is that author Suzanne Collins was apparently told she had six books to work with, until the publishers informed her that Mockingjay would have to be the end of her story, so she had a lot of content to get into not a lot of space. So with that in mind, we can’t really judge the necessity of the movie’s division until Part Two comes out next year.
Catching Fire’s climax brought about the destruction of Katniss’ (Lawrence) home of District 12, but with the help of Plutarch (Hoffman), Gale (Hemsworth) and a few others, she’s been stolen away from the Capitol’s nefarious President Snow (Sutherland) to help the supposedly annihilated District 13 and its leader President Coin (Moore). They’ve been amassing an underground army, and with Katniss as the face of their rebellion, they’re planning to galvanize the other Districts into overthrowing the Capitol. Snow has his own plans in motion though, with Peeta (Hutcherson) being used as his own poster boy for peace, which in this universe means little more than subjugation.
So it’s a little like if Luke Skywalker got into a media war with the Empire, hoping to rally the troops with pirated transmissions and guerrilla camerawork. Returning director Francis Lawrence keeps things humming along throughout an admittedly overly talk-y entry into a franchise whose previous highlights including killer fog and insanity-causing birds, so while it’s never boring, it does feel like a bit of a breather between the pulse-pounding Catching Fire and what is sure to be all out war in Mockingjay Part Two.
One or two action sequences sparsely scattered throughout mean that the focus is now on the performances, and while Lawrence is still as strong as ever, she spends a lot of the movie screaming and crying, which doesn’t make for much of a heroine. Hoffman, Moore and Sutherland are all great in their positions of power, but the double-whammy dullness of Hemsworth and Hutcherson is made even more obvious here, as their roles are expanded on while some of the more interesting characters played by Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci are left barely dangling above the cutting room floor.
While the topical context of propaganda used as a weapon – and the hugely meta moment of the franchise’s own promotional imagery and sound effects being used IN THE MOVIE as propaganda – and the sense of build up for the ultimate finale does give the audience some level of anticipation that the flat-out novel it’s based on was deprived of; we won’t be able to judge Mockingjay until we see it as a whole. As it stands it works as an enticement to see how the series plays out, but until then, this feels like an awful lot of foreplay with very little pay-off.