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27 Nov 2014

Beginning of the End: 'Mockingjay—Part 1' Keeps the 'Hunger Games' Saga Moving Forward

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Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1.

Things take a darker, more underground and perhaps more understated turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. While the film is a step backward from the rousing Catching Fire, it’s still a sturdy installment.

After being rescued at the end of Catching Fire—shortly after destroying the Hunger Games for good—Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken underground to join the rebellion. Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the reluctant Katniss as a propaganda tool to inspire the masses against the Capitol and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss is getting a little grouchy at this point, exacerbated by the fact that Snow has imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and is using him as a propaganda tool. Televised interviews with Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci, playing my least-favorite character in the series) suggest that Peeta wants the resistance to lay down their arms and accept the Capitol. He’s being labeled a traitor.

In exchange for help rescuing Peeta, Katniss agrees to assist with the resistance and be their “Mockingjay.” In the film’s best sequence, Katniss is asked to perform in a staged, studio production of what’s supposed to be a rousing, call-to-arms propaganda piece. Alas, Katniss can’t act.

It’s decided that a more realistic approach would do, so Katniss goes above ground, where a couple of decent action sequences ensue. A TV crew is embedded with her, and they capture Katniss in real action alongside District 12 friend and semi-love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, awarded more screen time in this installment).

Mockingjay—Part 1 is the result of taking the final novel in the popular Suzanne Collins series and splitting it in half; after all, more movies equal more dollars. However, I didn’t feel like the material was being stretched out in a detrimental way—like, say, what’s happening with the Hobbit movies. This film has plenty moving it forward, and I like where it ends.

There’s a cliffhanger, for sure, but it’s a cliffhanger with just a one-year wait. In my day, we used to wait more than THREE YEARS for the answer to a nasty movie cliffhanger. My junior high school grades suffered due to the malaise brought on by The Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger. I think it truly damaged me, and may be why I hate parties and am not married.

Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, now a part of the underground movement, isn’t allowed to drink anymore, so he’s grumpier than Katniss. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has also gone underground, where she is no longer adorned with extravagant wigs, gowns and makeup. It’s actually a pleasure to really see Banks, who takes the character to new places without her powdered face.

Moore is a welcome presence, as she often is in movies. Sutherland has really progressed with the Snow character; I didn’t like him all that much in the first movie. (Actually, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in the first installment.) In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman is strong as Plutarch, the double-agent architect of the Hunger Games now helping the resistance. Hoffman completed filming before his passing, so we will see him in Mockingjay—Part 2 as well.

Lawrence doesn’t get to strut her action-heroine stuff as much in this installment (although she does shoot down a plane with an arrow). She’s required to emote more in this one, and a couple of her moments are actually a little overwrought. I’ll blame director Francis Lawrence for the film’s more awkward moments, because I don’t want to blame Jennifer Lawrence for anything. She’s just so damned delightful!

Diehard fans: You already know how Mockingjay will end, so buck up and calm down. I heard people actually crying in the audience, because they were pissed with the cliffhanger ending. Just go read the book again, or practice a little thing called patience. It’s all going to be finished up in next year. Everything is going to be OK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is playing at theaters across the valley.

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