Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Movie Review: The Hunger Games - Mockingjay - Part 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great action and acting, compelling story
Cons: Slow in the beginning
The Bottom Line:
Building to climax
With great split of final book
Waiting for last film

“And If You’re Killed?”  “Make Sure You Get It On Camera.”

Going in to watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not only have I not read the books at all, but I felt that splitting the final Harry Potter book into two movies made for one boring first movie and one wonderfully exciting second movie.  I was kind of prepared for that to happen with the Hunger Games franchise, but it turned out that’s not what happened at all.

Because this movie picks up not too long after Catching Fire (not to mention it’s part of a continuing story), there will be spoilers for that movie starting about now.

As the movie opens, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is just waking up in District 13.  While the rest of Panem thinks that this district was bombed into oblivion years ago, it actually houses the underground – literally.  The resistance has built a whole community and war room down there led by President Coin (Julianne Moore).  This group wants Katniss to be their spokesperson since she is already inspiring and leading the rebellion across the districts from her actions alone.

At first, she is not willing to even consider it.  She just wants to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who, along with the other survivors of the 75th Hunger Games is a prisoner of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the capital, trotted out to manipulate Katniss.  But when she sees the damage done to her district, she changes her mind.  Will she inspire a true revolution?  How will President Snow attempt to stop the rebellion?

Now I’m not going to say that this movie didn’t start out slowly, but all the films in the franchise have, as far as I am concerned.  The film does use that time to introduce some new characters, and the scenes of Katniss coming to terms with her destiny as the face if not the actual leader of the rebellion are powerful.  This section isn’t boring, just a bit slow.

And it’s those scenes that draw us into the story and truly propel us forward into the final half of the film.  As Katniss begins to take a bit more of an active role in things, the conflict with President Snow truly heats up.  No, she is not taking this on by herself, but she is in some very harsh scenes.  This is civil war after all.  A righteous civil war against an evil dictator, but civil war none the less.

Which leads us to the final quarter of the film.  Here, the pace really picks up, and I found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen.  And the movie doesn’t just stop.  It actually has a good conclusion that is at the same time a bit of a cliffhanger.  For those of us who don’t know the story, it feels like a natural place to pause and wait for the climax of the saga to come out.

The acting in this film is great.  Jennifer Lawrence has quite a bit to carry on her shoulders, and she is wonderful at making us understand what Katniss is dealing with and entering the journey along with her.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.  Plus it was nice to see more of Liam Hemsworth’s Gale.  He gets more than two or three scenes at the beginning this time around, and I liked getting to know his character better.

Likewise, the special effects are great.  I didn’t buy all the action, but it wasn’t because of the effects.  There were just a couple of things that felt too farfetched to me to be real.

I’m now more than ready for the conclusion to this story, which fortunately hits theaters in just a couple of weeks.  If, like me, you haven’t read the books, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is a great way to get this part of the story.

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