The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 manages to capture all the elements that has kept the franchise great, but fails to be more than a cash-grab by the studio who felt the need to break the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy into two films.
Directed by Francis Lawrence (who helmed Catching Fire), Mockingjay, Part 1 features an incredible supporting cast including Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcomson, and Stanley Tucci.
The film picks up right after the events of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) broken from the traumatic events that took place in the last games. She is also haunted by the fact she was forced to leave Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind. President Alma Coin (Moore), Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) and the rebels of District 13 see Katniss as the Mockingjay and a symbol that will spur the other districts of Panem to join the fight against President Snow (Sutherland) and the Capitol. Many of the districts have rioted as a result of Catching Fire, and Katniss could be the spark that sets off the war – if Heavensbee can market her right through political propaganda ads.
Katniss finds some healing by being reunited with her mother (Malcomson) and her sister Prim (Willow Shields) and her love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth). A visit to her old district (which was destroyed by the Capital) and a rebel hospital helps Katniss decide to take on the role of the Mockingjay and join the propaganda fight. Her conviction is rocked when the Capital responds with its own propaganda videos featuring a sickly Peeta condemning the actions. As the movie rolls on, Peeta looks closer and closer to death – which forces Katniss and District 13 to launch a rescue mission.
President Snow decides to take the fight to the other districts as he sends his troops out to attack the rebels of District 13 and increases the work requirements of all other districts. He also starts a “cat and mouse” game with Katniss using Peeta as bait to force Katniss to make a mistake.
Although Mockingjay, Part 1 never feels like a complete movie, it does feature another strong performance from Lawrence and broadens the franchise storyline to make it feel like a global war with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance. At the same time, it is impossible to truly enjoy the film when it is clear there will be no resolution to the storyline. Several of the characters (and the talented actors playing them) serve no purpose in the film and are completely wasted – or at least in Part 1.
Catching Fire had similar issues, but managed to be a complete story that was better in several ways from the first film in the franchise. Mockingjay, Part 1 is very light on action and instead fills its running time with characters simply sitting around; playing with a cat; or discussing things that happened in the other films. The lack of any real action sequences (there is one scene where Katniss takes out a plane with an arrow) drags the pacing to a crawl at several different times. It is also difficult to care about the hardships Katniss is suffering in the film as she is forced to cry from one scene to the next and scream about Peeta to the point you wish the character would just go away.
Along with looking and sounding great on Blu-ray, Mockingjay, Part 1 comes loaded with bonus material that will thrill fans of the franchise. The bonus features includes an 8-part feature length documentary that details the film’s journey to the screen; a touching tribute to the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman; a look at the film’s soundtrack and a music video from Lorde; deleted scenes and commentary. There is also a sneak peek look at The Divergent Series: Insurgent.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 manages to leave you wanting to see what will happen in the final installment of the franchise, but fails to stand on its own as a film. The film features an incredible cast and a rich story, but doesn’t do enough with either. Instead, Mockingjay, Part 1 feels like simply something to watch while we wait for Part 2 to arrive and give this film a reason for being made.