In one of the few moments of suspense in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1 (which should win most awkward movie title of the year), Finnick (Sam Claflin) speaks and speaks and speaks to mark time and distract folks from an impending rescue. Soon after, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) does the same thing—speaking to take up time. That pretty much sums up this film. It takes up time, treading cinematic water while we await the second half, à la Harry Potter, of the last book of the series. The entire overlong movie could easily be the first third of whatever the closing film will be. What’s here doesn’t deserve its own film.
So little happens here that a plot synopsis is unnecessary. Districts suffer, the Capital is still bad, and oh yes, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) seems to be in a bad state and may need rescuing. Thank goodness they have the talented Lawrence at the center, as she bears a great deal of the film’s weight on her shoulders as she is asked to look (and look and look), reflecting a gamut of emotions through those expressive eyes.
There is little energy, rhythm or pace in the film. It just….flatly goes forward. Slowly. Getting very little done and covering a surprisingly little amount of action. There are all of two moments of suspense. The first is so contrived and predictable as to be almost laughable, and the reason for the suspense is so foolish as to make us care less about a significant character (and we feel bad for feeling bad about the scene). The second has to do with the aforementioned rescue, and has some moments of real energy and anticipation. Otherwise, the film is, to use a word I’ve never used in print or verbally—meh.
Director Francis Lawrence, who directed the second film in the franchise (a decided improvement over the first) has directed a film that seems to stretch out every action, occasionally reminding one of those long-held shots on soap opera actors that keep staring blankly before we cut to the commercial. It’s the very opposite of a Paul Greengrass film (e.g., Captain Phillips, The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) , and has the sluggishness to prove it.
Even the talented actors have a problem fitting in. The probable Oscar winner for this year, Julianne Moore (for Still Alice) is a national treasure and an actress of broad range and talent, is simply miscast here as President Coin, lacking the kind of bit, fire and authority that a Glenn Close could have provided. It’s been written that the sorely missed Philip Seymour Hoffman worked to create a real character with a role that could have been one-dimensional and flat. He succeeds in creating a real person, but that person doesn’t fit into the film, as there is nothing to connect with in terms of atmosphere, pace or tone. It’s a brave attempt, but it’s isolated.
Even the usuals don’t fare well. Donald Sutherland as President Snow is still bad with great hair, but seemed tired. Jeffrey Wright and Stanley Tucci bring some life when they appear, but they don’t appear enough. Poor Liam Hemsworth as Gale, the weak leg of a love triangle, is still performing dutifully as the stiff-upper-lip but pouting puppy dog, but his continued presence seems to make Katniss appear misdirected and a little obsessed with someone who doesn’t seem to deserve it. They’re going to have to make their case for her wanting Peeta and not choosing Gale in the last film, as they are certainly not making it in this one. And seeing Effie (Elizabeth Banks) deglammed, dulled down and out of place is more uncomfortable and odd than refreshing.
The film is also dark, lacking the color and sparkle of the other two films. Having the leads spend most of the time in a dull underground bunker will have that effect.
Here’s hoping that the fourth and final film will have some energy, and bring some clarity to the romance as well as the politics and warfare. Nothing anyone will say or write will stop the franchise fan from seeing the film. But if you haven’t started, don’t. And definitely don’t start with this one.