‘Mockingjay – Part 1’ sets up 2015 finale

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With Hollywood trending in the direction of more movie franchises, viewers are beginning to see problems down the road. The same directors that create these mega-popular films are the ones trying to roll these collections into one long, continuous story. Miss one movie along the way–or fail to read the next book by opening weekend–and you may not be able to stay up on the running plot when the next film debuts. Now throw in release dates every year for these epic saga movies and you’ve got theater audiences either completely bought-in to the product line or baffled altogether as to what just happened. This predicament is where “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” finds itself…the third movie of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy novels split up into two parts–all in an attempt to fully capitalize (financially) on the franchise’s shining end next November.

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“Mockingjay – Part 1” faithfully returns its fine “Hunger Games” cast, led once again by Jennifer Lawrence as rebel Katniss Everdeen. Staunch fans will marvel at the film’s immediate starting point, picking up exactly where last year’s “Catching Fire” left off. We find out that District 13 actually survived total destruction from the Capital and a President Coin (Julianne Moore) is amassing a rebellion force from a headquarters located deep underground. Lawrence’s character Katniss must inspire the people of Panem to take President Coin’s words and turn them into action against the Capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks resume their usual “Hunger Games” roles, as does the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final film appearance.

True “Hunger Games” loyalists will enjoy this film’s set up for the final chapter in 2015. It connects enough dots to satisfy the avid readers and those who’ve seen the first two films of this stellar collection. New viewers who use this film as their introduction to the mayhem called “The Hunger Games”, will find themselves overwhelmed with questions and throwing their theater money away by the time the credits roll.

The film could’ve been better served by condensing the first 90 minutes into half that time, giving us more J-Law in action on the big-screen. I also hungered for more bow & arrow precision from Katniss…and competition among ‘The Games’.  These skill-sets and themes are largely absent from the film, making us wait until “Mockingjay – Part 2” and its conclusion before the fan favorites get screen time .

This movie, however, accomplished what it was set out to do; to keep “The Hunger Games” franchise heading towards its climatic ending in November 2015. Although “Mockingjay – Part 1” reassembled its wonderful cast, the plot missed its real target.  What makes “The Hunger Games” trilogy so special are the action scenes between the survivalist in the Quarter Quell competitions and the Districts’ rebels taking the fight to the Capital government. Both quantities of these ingredients were inadequate in “Mockingjay – Part 1”.

Director Francis Lawrence, who is also heading up “Part 2”, spent this entire movie gearing us up for 2015’s final act. By holding back more action scenes from the viewers in this film, director Lawrence reduced “Part 1” to mostly dialogue with table setting for the next chapter. While still interesting and relevant to the overall “Hunger Games” timeline, “Mockingjay – Part 1” lost some of its magic that was in abundance for both the original and “Catching Fire” blockbuster hits. With an overall pedestrian “Part 1” film experience, expect next year’s finale to be the best film of “The Hunger Games” series.

Grade: B

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 5 minutes.

© 2014, Patrick. All rights reserved.



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