The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review: It’s (Almost) Time for War

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A few short years ago, the Harry Potter franchise closed out its legendary run by splitting the last of J.K. Rowling’s novels into two parts: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2. When many called it a cash-grab, the films spoke for themselves, becoming the two best of the franchise. But the cash-grab part stuck with other studios planning to adapt wildly popular young adult novels, and that’s why we have The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

Granted, whatever came after last year’s superb Catching Fire was going to have to be special. Mockingjay Part 1 isn’t all that special, but it could lead to something that is in another year. That’s the promise at least when this film suddenly ends after a climax lifted straight from Zero Dark Thirty that almost in no way involves Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).

To backtrack a bit, this film opens almost directly after its predecessor, with Katniss, Finnick (Sam Claflin), and a few other survivors of the Quarter Quell being taken to District 13, the headquarters of the rebellion that’s been building against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.

Leading the revolution are the returning Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated) and newcomer President Alma Coin (an empowering Julianne Moore). Together, they plan to use Katniss as a propaganda figure to unite the remaining districts against the Capitol.

What’s most interesting about Mockingjay Part 1 isn’t its differences from its predecessors, but its similarities. Despite the fact that Katniss is now out of the Capitol and part of the revolution, the first half of the film still has her being outfitted and pushed to win over an audience. What could have been the story just following the formula of the last two ends up being a sharp commentary on war and the two sides fighting it. Katniss quickly becomes aware that the revolution isn’t as righteous as one might think. This is the same type of political subtext that lifted both Suzanne Collins’ novels and the previous two films to the next level of quality.

But once the stage is set, it becomes clear that Mockingjay Part 1 is just setting us up for stuff we’ll be watching a year from now. The climax of the film is exciting, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the games.

So while this entry in the franchise is easily the weakest, it still serves up enough thrills to keep our appetites whet for next November. This universe and its characters are rich enough to make even the most hum-drum Hunger Games movie stand taller than a lot of other blockbusters. If the franchise finishes on top, this entry will be seen as a slight bump in the road. See you next year for the (hopefully) thrilling conclusion. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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