They say the third time’s the charm. While that is usually not the case with movie franchises (give me one third film that eclipsed the first two which is not named “Return of the King”), the saying does ring true with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”, which is the best film in the series.
Picking up right where “Catching Fire” left off, Katniss (fan-favorite Jennifer Lawrence) is now in District 13 and has become the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol, led by the love-to-hate-him President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Liam Hemsworth and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman return as Julianne Moore joins the cast. Francis Lawrence returns in the director’s chair.
The first two Hunger Games films both served their purpose, but I never felt any real connection to the characters, even Katniss. I’ve honestly always found her extremely unlikable and hard to root for, a claim she herself has pointed out on numerous occasions so it isn’t exactly like I’m grasping at straws. However “Mockingjay – Part 1” replaces the PG-13 shakycam action with well-acted scenes involving propaganda and the sparks of a revolution and that is why it is the best entry in the Hunger Games series to date.
The direction in the film is what makes it so good; without director Francis Lawrence, the film would not work. He utilizes fantastic production value and impressive CGI to immerse us in a world that is dark, both in tone and visuals. Whether it is the remains of a bombed district or a secret underground bunker, he knows exactly how and where to place the camera to get the most from every shot. There is also one incredibly impressively executed raid scene inside the Capitol that is as entertaining as it is nerve-wrecking.
Hoffman yet again shows why he was truly a rare talent, and we lost one of the all-time greats. Playing a master of political propaganda, Hoffman has some moments of humor and makes a few fantastic points about society, and he plays well off of the stubborn Katniss. Woody Harrelson once again is the comic relief, and at times stands as the voice of reason for the audience. Southerland is the best he’s been so far as the sinister Snow, and one monologue gave me chills just by the pure evil in his eyes.
Now “Mockingjay – Part 1” isn’t for everyone. There are no kids-killing-kids this time around, and Katniss only shoots her trademark bow and arrow once. It is certainly the slowly burning wick at the start of the exploding powder keg, so there is lots of talking and almost no action. But what that does is make the action scenes that do take place hold even more purpose and weight, and make you even more excited for the epic finale that awaits.
If you open a history book, the American and French Revolutions are some of the most interesting and exciting time periods you can read about. This holds true for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”, as it is tense, emotional and leading to something grand. Does it warrant the final book being broken up into two separate movies? Probably not, but time will tell. Who woulda thunk that the best film in the Hunger Games franchise would be the one that doesn’t even feature the Hunger Games at all?
Critics Rating: 7/10