The Waiting Games: ‘Mockingjay — Part 1’ is Just Passing Time Before Next Year’s Finale
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1’ is a movie comprised almost entirely of deleted scenes. As it says right in the title, this isn’t the final chapter of ‘The Hunger Games’ series; it’s just the first half of the final chapter, and that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s table setting for a meal that won’t be served until next November. ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ is good-looking, well-acted, and utterly inessential.
It is also fairly watchable, in large part because Jennifer Lawrence remains a compelling screen presence even in the least compelling of circumstances. Her role in ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ is at least 15 percent walking forlornly through rubble and 15 percent looking forlornly at high-tech flatscreens. But Lawrence imbues those scenes with as much eye-watering, lip-quivering feeling as any human being could possibly muster. Mostly her Hunger-Games-champion-turned-budding-rebel-leader Katniss Everdeen spends ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ waiting for something to happen (technically, everyone spends ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ waiting for something to happen). But if the script by Peter Craig and Danny Strong gives her little to do, Lawrence still commits completely to her role. It is appreciated.
What’s not appreciated is the way the film provides so little substance to pass the time before next year’s ‘Mockingjay - Part 2.’ The Wikipedia plot synopsis of Suzanne Collins’ original ‘Mockingjay’ novel runs eight paragraphs. ‘Mockingay - Part 1’ only features events from the first two paragraphs. There’s little reason to think ‘Part 2’ won’t be spectacular; after all, they got all of the exposition and throat-clearing out of the way in this installment. ‘Part 2’ will almost certainly be all killer; ‘Part 1’ is basically all filler.
It begins shortly after the events of last year’s far superior ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,’ where Katniss and a few other participants managed to escape the 75th Hunger Games and make their way to District 13, home to a growing rebellion against President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the despotic ruler of the film’s future world of Panem. The president of the rebels, Alma Coin (a silver-haired Julianne Moore), wants Katniss to become the figurehead of her revolution against Snow, but the battle-scarred and combat-shocked “Girl on Fire” turns her down.
She eventually relents after discovering that her Hunger Games partner and friend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by Snow’s forces, and is being coerced into giving a series of propagandistic interviews designed to turn public opinion against the rebels. On Coin’s promise that she will do everything in her power to rescue Peeta from captivity, Katniss agrees to become the symbolic “Mockingjay” who will inspire the citizens of Panem to rise up in revolt. But not yet! That doesn’t come until later either.
Most of ‘Part 1’ instead consists of these backroom dealings, motivational speeches, and television propaganda (there are hints that Coin’s regime might be manipulating Katniss in exactly the way Snow’s is manipulating Peeta, but the idea peters out before director Francis Lawrence can do anything with it). A few sequences stand out, but even the good ones, like a raid on a Capital dam or a harrowing bombing of the rebels’ underground base, make bystanders of our heroes. Even when there’s action (which isn’t often), Katniss largely remains on the sidelines, watching and waiting to see what will happen to poor Peeta and hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
If all you require out of a ‘Hunger Games’ movie is Jennifer Lawrence acting her guts out and firing a bow and arrow at least once (but maybe not twice), ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ will satisfy you—but just barely. Even the cliffhanger ending is underwhelming (Lawrence has a potentially juicy one in the final act, but he trudges past it to a miniature resolution instead of closing things on a shocker). There’s no (non-financial) reason ‘Mockingjay’ had to be divided into two parts. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza wrote a Hollywood blockbuster. Nothing happens.