A few dramatic revelations unveil, a handful of new characters are introduced, and an intense moment or two of action rockets across the screen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” – but none of it propels the story forward. The entire picture is simply a glimpse of grander events to come and a set-up for pathos and an eventual, epic culmination. Despite lacking truly meaningful occurrences, a surging anticipation does exist for witnessing the valorous survivors gather and carry on the rebellion they previously incited. The serious tone and darker themes also persist, though weighty subjects of crushing guilt, mental and physical torture, and remorseless genocide seem to have demoralized heroine Katniss into periodic weepy breakdowns that contradict the intrepid defiance against evil audiences surely crave.
Plagued by nightmares of her recent ordeals, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) must collect her courage and resolve once again to continue in her quest to overthrow the barbaric rule of Panem’s President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Teaming with rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss begins filming propaganda videos to encourage the remaining Districts to rise up against their oppressors. But when her seditious speeches result in escalating insurrection, President Snow counters with his own public messages that reveal Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), appearing in steadily deteriorating condition, pleading for the restoration of order. Torn between saving Peeta and toppling a merciless despot, Katniss must prepare for the biggest battle of her life.
This film, more than any other middle entry to a series, feels like a fraction of a movie. Nothing integral to the story happens here that couldn’t have been tacked onto the final chapter or summed up through brief exposition. The two-hour runtime essentially exists just to transport the Peeta character from captivity in the Capitol to the rebel stronghold of District 13 – all without grand action sequences, suspenseful activities, or moving disclosures. It simply sets up, with far too little bravado, an introduction for the conclusion. And there aren’t even any small wins for the heroes along the way, as if every subplot is a purposeful downward spiral or morale diluter to make the triumphant finale just that much more powerful. Too bad audiences will have to wait a full year to see any of that.
This time around, Katniss isn’t the tough-as-nails subsister from before. Apparently, the trauma of competing in the games twice in a row has left her concerned only for her missing friend, careless in the presence of danger, and selfishly ignorant of the rallying potential of her position. Despite reuniting with her family, who barely made it out alive, repeatedly witnessing the gaudy wickedness of Snow, and even visiting the annihilated remnants of her home, she seems to have forgotten the severity of her dystopic, oppressive environment. To the hopelessly misguided Katniss, the bigger picture is irrelevant in the face of love – except that she’s still caught in a bit of a love triangle.
“We’ll make you the best dressed rebel in history!” insists Effie, who, thankfully, doesn’t get an opportunity to overdo the costuming to the point of garish distraction. There’s something mildly appealing about Everdeen’s modernistic Robin Hood fatigues and motives, complete with quiver of arrows and defiant symbols, but the rebellion is basic and the countering of the government with a campaign of fear is entirely formulaic. Leadership through persecution, shifting allegiances under duress, and the manipulative strengths of propaganda certainly offer topical relevance. But the most gripping sequence doesn’t even utilize Katniss, while the cut-to-black climax just might be the most aggravatingly uninspired instant ever for the popular technique. Clearly, splitting “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” into two pieces was a financial gimmick alone.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)