Dispiriting, disappointing, discouraging, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –Part 1 is my nominee for the non-event of 2014, a film that will be used as ammunition for those who believe that movies are more crassly commercial than ever. In this needlessly protracted preamble to the finale, the only “hunger games’ going on here are the producers’ hunger for your hard-earned money, which supersedes any desire to provide anything resembling satisfying entertainment.
Before I get into Mockingjay bashing, there is one genuinely good sequence in the film, as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who has been recruited to be the face of the revolution, brings down (with the aid of some explosive arrows) enemy planes sent to bomb a hospital. The outcome inspires a stirring speech which brings out the best in Katniss (and Ms. Lawrence). The problem is that’s just about it for any meaningful action—certainly any that involves Katniss.
For much of the film, Lawrence’s Katniss is either brooding (which becomes her), being maneuvered into becoming the symbol of the Revolution with as much media exposure as can be obtained (cue an amusing scene where Lawrence convincingly portrays Katniss’ awkwardness on camera), or forced to the sidelines as others carry out the plot machinations…such as they are. Yet this film, running close to two hours, feels far longer than the 165 minute Catching Fire, itself an improvement on the first installment.
What has gone hideously awry here? Besides sidelining Ms. Lawrence for much of the time, Mockingjay – Part 1 sabotages any chance of momentum it might have in favor of semi-idyllic interludes, philosophical folderol, and “meaningful” musings about the human cost of war. However, it’s a little late in the series to speculate if the human cost is worth it, since it has been definitively established that Donald Sutherland’s President Snow and the actions of those in the Capitol represent mankind at its most reprehensible; to spend screen time debating the nature of rebellion is a futile attempt at complexity that proves to be disingenuous at best, yet it’s presented here in as desultory a fashion as possible, effectively grinding the film to a halt.
In other developments, if you were lukewarm about Peeta (the perennially blank Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (the rugged, but entirely too soft-spoken Liam Hemsworth), there is little here to make one care about who is the victor in the “who will win Katniss” sweepstakes. In fact, certain plot advances (especially concerning Peeta) will leave you wanting less. Other actors make welcome returns but are utilized sparingly, such as Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks. Much screen time is instead doled out to Julianne Moore’s District 13 president and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s rebellion leader as they assess Katniss’ role, and her ability to handle it. The actors are fine, but the screenplay lets them down, resulting in unnecessarily padded scenes (amidst a convincingly dreary underground set) and an overall sense of lethargy—from the audience. If you haven’t seen Mockingjay – Part 1, there is still time to hold out for the DVD and instead wait for what will be an eagerly anticipated finale. I’m hoping you’ll be able to enjoy it on its own merits—which is more than one can say for this grounded Mockinjay.