THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1
Like its immediate predecessor Catching Fire, director Francis Lawrence's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is reasonably gripping and rarely dull, although its presentation - as was bound to happen - does make the movie feel less like a satisfying two-hour entertainment than the not-bad first half of a much better four-hour entertainment. (Or five-hour entertainment, depending on how plushly Lawrence and Lionsgate pad the goodbye in next year's Part 2.) But I was really put off by one moment in the film, which found Woody Harrelson's Haymitch complaining that the makeup worn by Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss needed to be scrubbed off, as it was making the young warrior look 35. The line was amusing and Haymitch wasn't wrong, but why wasn't anyone bothered that the rest of Mockingjay 1 was making her look 13?
There are no doubt followers of Suzanne Collins' literary series (I'm not one of them) who are curious about where, exactly, the closing credits roll in this cinematic halving of her climactic Hunger Games tale. For those inevitable viewers, and without spoiler-ing things for the uninitiated, you know how that one guy gets kidnapped and then rescued but now he's not who he used to be and is kinda scary and Katniss cries about it? That's where. And all things considered, it's a decent enough place to end things until next November, even if some of us are left stymied by what Donald Sutherland's President Snow meant to accomplish by allowing that rescue in the first place. (Was it just for the mustache-twirling delight of sending Katniss a long-distance "Gotcha!"?)
But sadly, by giving viewers only the first part of Mockingjay's finale (the screenplay is by Collins, Peter Craig, and Danny Strong), the filmmakers have left us with an action adventure in which Katniss Everdeen doesn't get to do much - not much, that is, besides cry, and mope, and whine endlessly about what's going to become of her poor, faraway friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The bulk of Lawrence's movie takes place in a secret underground compound where the overthrow of Panem's fascist capital is being planned by rebel forces, among them Philip Seymour Hoffman's friendly turncoat Plutarch and Julianne Moore's District 13 president, the latter sporting a wig apparently on loan from Meryl Streep in The Giver. (Happily, Elizabeth Banks' loopy Effie Trinket is also on hand, if newly miserable about the district's olive-jumpsuit dress code.) There's some strong tension in these borderline-claustrophobic scenes of planned attack, and the escalating, Big Picture grandeur of Collins' plot is impressively shaped. Yet I'll be honest: Every time a character explained to Katniss the long-range effects of what they were doing, and the import of her place in the rebellion, and she countered with "But what about Peeta?!", I wanted to toss Katniss out a window.
Obviously, both in print and on screen, the Hunger Games series wouldn't be the phenomena they are without the teenage- and tweenage-girl demographic, and for the movies, it makes sense that Collins and her adapters wouldn't give short shrift to the "Team Peeta or Team Gale?" question, with Lawrence's Katniss torn between Hutcherson's chivalrous sweetie and Liam Hemsworth's chivalrous sweetie. (Given how confident and magnetic he was in Catching Fire, I was hoping that Sam Clafin's Finnick would emerge as a third, preferable option, but in that film and this one, he's too busy pining for another gal.) Yet by Mockingjay 1, Katniss spends so much time in a wet-eyed tizzy about Peeta's fate and Gale's feelings that, "teenager" though I guess she's still supposed to be, she begins to seem a little pathological. The fate of the world in hanging in the balance and Katniss is occupied with boyfriend dilemmas?
Lawrence is given a few sequences, such as the one in which Katniss fells a passing jet with an arrow, that allow her to strut the action-flick muscle that made her so awesome in the series' previous installments. And she's a powerful enough actor, and in-character enough, to make her emotionalism and near-constant weeping here less tiresome than it might've been. But with Katniss so distracted and so frequently serving as peripheral to the rebellion - as in Zero Dark Thirty, the movie ends with its heroine not physically participating in the climactic rescue - Mockingjay 1 still emerges as a Hunger Games without a lead.
Theoretically, though, she'll be much more of one in Mockingjay 2. And in the meantime, with the exception of the duo playing Katniss' bland suitors, it's hard to complain about part one's support team: Harrelson and Sutherland and Banks, and Jeffrey Wright, and House of Cards' Mahershala Ali, and (for a briefer period than you might want) Stanley Tucci. And Moore. And Moore's Boogie Nights and Magnolia co-star Hoffman, who is wonderful throughout and has one scene directing a wooden Katniss in a misguided propaganda film ("You've just come out of battle!!!") that's funnier and more human than anything else in the movie. No one truly devoted to the art of screen acting should consider missing Mockingjay, Part 1. However, after the Hunger Games outings that preceded it, I do find it unfortunate (if unsurprising) that the franchise's latest has been designed almost solely for those who wouldn't consider missing an issue of Tiger Beat.