“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1” Movie Review

    With the success the "Twilight" series had by taking the final book and splitting its content into two separate films, it's not a surprise the producers of "The Hunger Games" opted to do the same thing.  After all, money talks, but at what cost? "Mockingjay-Part 1" clocks in at 123 minutes and has clearly been watered down in order to meet the length of a feature film.  "Catching Fire" director Francis Lawrence returns to the series and is forced to load this installment with endless and needless exposition, taking the place of the franchise's normally compelling storyline and relentless action set pieces.  Quite frankly, there really isn't much going on in this portion of the series and I can't imagine mainstream audiences being pleased with what is being offered here.  It seems as though the actors settle for going through the motions in what is merely a warm up for what should be an emotionally climactic part two.

     Returning as her trademark character, Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence practically sleepwalks through the first hour, delivering her dialogue in a way that you question whether or not she's even solidly behind this screen adaptation. Apparently she's none to happy about being rescued at the end of the last film, especially since her partner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), was seemingly left for capture by those within the evil Capitol.  The script manages to allow nearly every character from the previous film to make an appearance,  but none of the supporting players are given more than a small handful of token scenes.  In particular, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Stanley Tucci are basically wasted and are given nothing to say or do that leaves a lasting impression on the audience.  With this only being the first half of a complete story, it's clear many of these characters will likely be featured more prominently in the final installment, but that does nothing for this one and stands as a significant detraction.

     The majority of the story finds Katniss recovering from her ordeal in "Catching Fire" and her acceptance of the current situation, that being her role in a fledgling rebellion.  Already familiar with Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the reveal in "Catching Fire" that he was a spy within the Capitol and a now rebellion leader, Katniss is introduced to District 13 President Coin (Jullianne Moore), who has plans to use her as the rebellion's symbol of hope.  Along with her previous love, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss is taken to the ruins of various districts that have been obliterated by the capitol's massive firepower in order to illicit the emotion necessary to capture a series of "propos", propaganda commercials to be broadcasted to the other districts for inspiration.  She manages some minor heroics, but nothing comparable to anything seen in the first two films.  In fact, "Mockingjay-Part 1" is nearly devoid of any notable action sequences at all which is a major surprise.

     Though the overall look of the film manages the typical high end glossy Hollywood film production, much of the CGI appeared to resemble the kind of quality normally seen in the game "Call of Duty" with the majority of the wide shots lacking the kind of realism I would expect.  Even a rescue mission late in the film barely exceeded the look of 1981s "Escape From New York" as Snake Plissken descended on his mission in a glider plane.  The dark buildings of the Capitol seemed like miniatures and were missing the kind of detailed artistry that is now commonplace for this type of fare.  Because these sequences are few and far between, it was incredibly important the filmmakers get them right.  Since they fail to produce the kind of awe and excitement both of the first two films were so successful in doing, the audience is left with a number of speeches that don't add up to a whole lot, thus leaving you wishing the second half of the story wasn't a year away.

     To judge "Mockingjay-Part 1" on its own proves difficult.  As a viewer, you literally feel as though you are getting only part of the story with the important third act all but missing.  The filmmakers choose to break at a point where most would refer to it as a cliffhanger, but the reality behind the character involved is his fate seems to have little impact on the rebellion to come.  Whether he lives or dies would have an emotional impact on one person and would not effect the way President Coin and the other districts intend on defeating the Capitol.  Fans of the series will inevitably clamor for more and it's unlikely the box office will suffer much, but "Mockingjay-Part 1" does nothing to further the series and seems content with being a sort of gap filler for what should be a solid conclusion. GRADE: C