The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1"

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

It has become an unofficial Hollywood law that, when adapting young adult novels for the screen, the last entry in the series must be divided into two separate films. The Harry Potter series did this to great financial effect, as did The Twilight Saga. Word has it that the Divergent franchise will get such treatment, as well. The upside to this approach is that filmmakers don't have to pare down the final book as much; they can include more of the story by spreading it out a little. The downside is that the first half of the finale tends to be a lot of setup for a payoff that comes about a year later. That can make it a not-entirely-satisfying experience in and of itself. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 suffers from that phenomenon a little bit, but also offers something new to the franchise, which helps mitigate the half-a-story syndrome.

The plot picks up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after a second round of the Games. President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who rescued her, are leading a rebellion against the oppressive Capitol. They want Katniss to be the face of that rebellion. She initially resists, but then learns that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) at the Capitol, and is using him as the face of maintaining the status quo. In order to save Peeta, Katniss will have no choice but to become a leader. President Coin puts her in a series of propaganda shorts, designed to encourage everyone in the remaining districts to rise up.

Mockingjay Part 1 is definitely the warmup before the pitch. Most of the action will presumably take place in Part 2, meaning that this movie is talkier and more internal than either of the first two Hunger Games installments. What action there is tends to be brief and only periodic. And, of course, the picture ends with sort of a cliffhanger that accomplishes little other than making you want to see the final chapter right now.

Nonetheless, this is still a worthy entry in the series because it does something very important. Mockingjay Part 1 exists to be an examination of political rebellion, and it's a surprisingly astute one, at that. The screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, based on Suzanne Collins' novel explores how masses are motivated to revolt. Entire sections of the story are devoted to Coin and Heavensbee strategizing on how to best use Katniss. They figure out what her message should be and how she should deliver it. Katniss, meanwhile, grapples with the idea of having to represent something so massive and scary. People trust her because of her victory in the Games. She's now asking them to risk their lives by fighting tooth-and-nail for an ideal. That's a lot of weight for one person to carry on her shoulders. The film examines concepts of propaganda, myth-making, and the ethics of deciding when/how to put people in danger. Because the film takes the time to put these pieces in place, Mockingjay Part 2 is almost certain to deliver in a big, big way.

It's fascinating stuff, which makes the relative lack of big-ticket action go down a little easier. Everything feels like a natural extension of what came in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, while also working as a precursor to the big finale. As always, Jennifer Lawrence anchors it all, bringing raw emotion to her role. Political machinations can be interesting in and of themselves, yet having such a relatable heroine gives them genuine weight here. Lawrence provides Katniss with just the right amount of hesitation. She may not be fighting for her life this time, but she's most definitely fighting for her soul and her morality, so the stakes are still high.

An able supporting cast aids her, and some first-rate special effects go a long way toward showing how destructive the Capitol is to the Districts. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 may not work on a stand-alone level, but if you've become invested in the series, it's an important, thoughtful bridge between what has already happened and what is yet to come.

( out of four)


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.


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