A thrilling set up for an explosive finaleMovie Review Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
At the end of Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games series, our hero Katniss Everdeen, played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, has managed to destroy the high-tech dome in which she and 23 other “tributes” from the 12 districts of the nation of Panem were fighting each other to death. The previous year, Katniss and her tribute partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) had won the Hunger Games, as this annual blood bath is called, but in forcing the overlords of the games to accept two winners and then becoming a national hero, she had angered President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the dastardly ruler of Panem. So, the next year he made previous winners, who had been promised riches and safety, compete in a special, 75th anniversary Hunger Games. This didn’t go well, and secret rebels used the games, while manipulating Katniss and Peeta, to start an uprising. When Katniss shot an arrow into the force field covering the forested game space on live television, she showed that Panem’s rulers were not invincible. The rebels saved Katniss, but the bad guys got Peeta.
The third film in the series, Mockingjay, Part 1, is based on one half of the third novel of Suzanne Clark’s series of the same name. The second and final part will be released next November. Part 1 opened last week after a brilliant marketing campaign by its studio Lion’s Gate. (This included widely distributed portraits of archetypes of each of Panem’s districts. My favorite was for District 10, which specializes in livestock production; Mr. LA Leather and HIV prevention activist Eric Paul Leue was the model. Google it.)
So much hype for a film can make it easily disappointing, but in this case, I wasn’t let down. While not as great as Catching Fire, which in itself was better than the first film, simply titled The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part 1 is a thrilling, unnerving, and expertly made set up for what is expected to be an explosive and what hopefully will be a fantastic finale to the series. I wish they’d not split the book in two and made the audience suffer such a horrific cliffhanger, but clearly Lion’s Gate wanted to wring out as much cash as possible from the franchise.
The film opens shortly after Katniss is rescued, when she wakes up to discover she is in the massive underground bunker-city of District 13, which the rest of Panem thinks was destroyed in the civil war that the Hunger Games supposedly commemorates. 13 is populated by always-at-the-ready soldiers and presided over by the calmly fearless President Coin (Julianne Moore). Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died during filming), who ran the games while secretly masterminding their destruction, convince Katniss to become the figurehead of the revolution, the symbol of freedom – the mockingjay. Katniss is at first reluctant and only focused on saving the imprisoned Peeta and figuring out whether she loves him or her childhood beau Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Coin and Plutarch send her back to her home, the mining-focused District 12, and she sees that Snow had massacred all but less than a thousand of the district in response to Katniss’ perfectly shot arrow at the games. Enraged, she realizes her duty.
The rest of the film focuses on the creepily cynical propaganda war between District 13 and Snow’s henchmen, along with some good gunfights and espionage. Francis Lawrence’s direction balances the science fiction action with scenes of more grounded emotional power, utilizing the extraordinary acting abilities of the cast that also include Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks (particularly hilarious this time), Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci and Natalie Dormer. Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to Francis) is given the biggest emotions to work with, and she goes big with them, particularly in her hysterical guilt over Peeta’s capture. I’m hoping that in Part 2, she does less crying and more asskicking.
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