The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1: What the Critics Say

Tuesday, 11 November 2014 - 11:07AM
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1
Tuesday, 11 November 2014 - 11:07AM
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1: What the Critics Say

The first reviews are trickling in for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1, and the consensus is essentially mixed-to-positive. The critics all agree that the acting is stellar and that the evolution of the strong protagonist does not disappoint. They also agree that there is less action in Mockingjay Pt 1 than in either of the other Hunger Games films, but are divided on whether that helps or hurts the quality of the film. And while many praise the social commentary and thematic content of the film, others claim that the filmmakers crafted a nakedly commercial and cynical film that in itself runs contrary to the franchise's anti-corporate themes.

 

The Action (Or Lack Thereof)

 

Purely as a result of the content of the Suzanne Collins novel on which the last two films are based, the plot is less action-packed than ever before, as the Hunger Games have been dismantled and Katniss prepares for a rebellion against the Capitol. Some critics actually found this to be an improvement over the first two films, as the shift in setting and tone rendered the film more thoughtful and allowed for more opportunity to explore the nuances of the themes and character development:

 

Hunger Games

[Credit: Lionsgate] 

 

The glossy action that defined the first two films (at least in the 'Hunger Games' competition climaxes) is largely missing this time round as soul-searching and sad revelation take over from archery, fights and feistiness, giving the film a sombre tone. - Screen Daily

 

The third Hunger Games movie is a smaller scale, more buttoned down affair, with more introspection and less crowd-pleasing action. - Forbes

 

With just two action scenes and no gladiatorial combat, this is by far the talkiest film of the series. It's also the most grown-up. The movie intrigues by never allowing us to settle into a cozy battle between good and evil. - Daily Star

 

Suffice it to say that while "Mockingjay, Part 1" might not be as consistently thrilling as "Catching Fire" - the second movie always has the luxury of being all PB&J and no crust - it's the movie equivalent of a page-turner, consistently suspenseful and filled with surprises and illuminating character moments. - The Wrap

 

While others felt that the Games themselves were integral to the intrigue of the franchise, and that this installment was insufferably boring:

 

Mockingjay – Part 1 is all queue, no roller-coaster. The third of four films in the successful and admirable Hunger Games series is any number of good things: intense, stylish, topical, well-acted. But the one thing it could never be called is satisfying. - The Telegraph

 

Audiences coming to this film with no prior knowledge of the material may feel their patience squeezed and their appetite for action a bit neglected; following the bright-hued battle-royale spectacle of its predecessors, "Mockingjay" reveals a darkening shift in mood, emphasis and color palette as it decisively exits the arena and literally burrows underground. - Variety

 

Franchises get rebooted, but they don't normally get rebooted halfway through their run. Without the Hunger Games themselves the film lacks a solid structure. - The Guardian

 

Now that Katniss Everdeen's revolt at Fire's climax has pushed the future districts into a climate of unrest, countered by state oppression, there are no games to play but political ones. This time, it's war? Yes, but for unwary viewers expecting the fun stuff of bonkers baboons terrorizing teenagers it could just be a bore. - Total Film

 

The Split Into Two Films

 

On its face, the decision to split the final book of the Hunger Games series into two films appeared to be financially rather than creatively motivated, in a cynical move that would result in both films feeling incomplete and this installment in particular feeling like all build-up with no payoff. While some reviewers thought that this fact didn't detract from the overall quality of the film, virtually no one thought it benefitted from the decision. Even the overwhelmingly positive reviews agreed that it was a cynical ploy for money at heart:

 

hunger Games

[Credit: Lionsgate]

 

Like an overgrown and bloated trailer for a film yet to come, Francis Lawrence's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 spreads perhaps 45 minutes of dramatic material across two far-too-leisurely hours. The final installment of Suzanne Collins' blockbuster trilogy wasn't naturally designed to be broken down into two segments. - Hollywood Reporter

 

This is basically the third time that we've seen the whole "split the final book into two movies" gimmick, and this is frankly the first time I believe said choice has done the material an artistic disservice. Unlike the second-to-last Harry Potter and/or Twilight movies, this is clearly just the first half of a single story with little attempts to hide that fact. - Forbes

 

As you watch, you can feel a franchise being eked out to squeaking point: like the two-part conclusions to the Harry Potter and Twilight series, this feels like a business decision rather than a creative one. Only the most uncritical fans, for whom more will always unquestionably be better, could possibly be at peace with two hours of preamble with no discernible payoff. - The Telegraph

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is, technically, not a full movie. It's the first half of the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy adapted to film, but it's not been adapted in a way that makes it feel like a total experience; this doesn't feel like the end of a chapter, as a good serialized story should, it feels like the end of a paragraph. - Badass Digest

 

The title lets you know we're still one more movie away from the grand finale, but even if "Mockingjay, Part 1" leaves us wanting more, it's not just two hours of build-up. Think of it as an amuse-bouche for a final course that manages to satisfy on its own. - The Wrap

 

The decision to make Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy a movie quadrilogy has been totally vindicated by this deeply satisfying installment. - Daily Star

 

That Part 1 is unfulfilling in total isn't because of director Francis Lawrence or the screenwriters who adapted Suzanne Collins' novel - it's because of the marketing guys who made the choice to cut this movie in half. If Part 2 satisfactorily knocks down the dominoes this film has set up, in twenty years we won't even think twice about their release pattern. We'll just be talking about how great The Hunger Games quartet was as serious social commentary science fiction. - Badass Digest

 

Was Mockingjay Pt 1 Made By the Capitol?

 

Not least as a result of said decision to split into two movies, several reviewers noted the irony of the studios making a thoroughly commercial, conventional film that is just as sleek, cynical, and corporate as anything the Capitol would produce. Similar to the common critique of Divergent that it was a conformist film about anti-conformity, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 may defeat its own purpose.

 

Hunger Games

[Credit: Lionsgate]

 

Unfortunately, Mockingjay - Part 1 has all the personality of an industrial film. There's not a drop of insolence, insubordination or insurrection running through its veins; it feels like a manufactured product through and through, ironic and sad given its revolutionary theme. - Hollywood Reporter

 

This penultimate series entry is a tale of mass uprising and media manipulation that itself evinces no hint of a rebellious streak or subversive spirit: Suzanne Collins' novels may have warned against the dangers of giving the masses exactly what they want to see, but at this point, the forces behind this hugely commercial property are not about to risk doing anything but. - Variety

 

The downside of his fidelity to Collins' novel (the author even gets an "adaptation by" credit this time around) is that the film never shakes off a safe-and-steady, by-the-book feel, or an unfortunate tendency to spell out the obvious. - Variety

 

But other camps disagreed, and felt that the film's greatest strength was its exploration of hairy social and political issues:

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 finds its success in meaningful themes, character-driven story, and smart execution, and ultimately creates some impressive depth for the phenomenon franchise. - Cinema Blend

 

"Mockingjay, Part 1" is still very much a "Hunger Games" movie, yes, but it calls to mind smart political comedies like "Wag the Dog" and "Tanner '88" as well. - The Wrap

 

Jennifer Lawrence: MVP

 

Critics were decidedly united on this front: Jennifer Lawrence turns in another great performance as Katniss Everdeen. (Of course, some of us have been thoroughly unimpressed with her work in The Hunger Games, seeing not great performances but a very talented actress phoning it in hard, so who knows if those people will be satisfied by this outing.)

 

Hunger Games

[Credit: Lionsgate]

 

Lawrence carries the proceedings... [She] maintains a steadily absorbing control of the story's pace, tone and ever-increasing dramatic stakes - Variety

 

Part 1 holds up, mostly, with Jennifer Lawrence doing some proper heavy lifting. - Total Film

 

Jennifer Lawrence continues to be stunning as Katniss, a hero who is at once iconic and deeply human. - Badass Digest

 

Once again Jennifer Lawrence captivates. Every flinch of fear, revulsion and guilt delivered with subtlety and projected on that familiar face – contemporary Artemis with bow, strength and grace. - Hey U Guys

 

[Lawrence] is the charismatic presence that holds this rather flailing film together. - Screen Daily

 

Runners-Up

 

Hunger Games

[Credit: Lionsgate]

 

The acting was described as solid-to-great all around, with several of the supporting actors cited as stand-outs. The most votes have gone to Julianne Moore so far, with some praise going to Elizabeth Banks, Natalie Dormer, Donald Sutherland, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (as well as a couple votes for Liam Hemsworth, although other reviews cited him as a weak link). 

 

Given more opportunity here than in the two previous films, Banks gamely pushes the role into quasi-Oscar Wildean territory. - Hollywood Reporter

 

Hoffman's performance here is so contentedly, understatedly generous, you can't help but picture him having slipped his shoes off under the table. - The Telegraph

 

Dormer is one of the most fierce screen presences today, and even though Cressida has shockingly little to actually DO, Dormer is constantly interesting. - Badass Digest

 

Liam Hemsworth's Gale finally gets some material that he can really sink his teeth into - Cinema Blend

 

Donald Sutherland continues to play President Snow with a creepy confidence that sells the idea that he has seen revolutions come and go and feels little threat to his power - Cinema Blend

 

The biggest new addition to the cast is Julianne Moore as President Coin, and I love her. She's tough, she's kind of cold, and she disagrees with Heavensbee's media manipulations almost as much as Snow loved them. Moore plays military leader with a ramrod back and pin-straight, severe hair, and she's legitimately taking no shit from anyone. - Badass Digest

 

A welcome addition to the cast is a striking and gently charismatic Julianne Moore as the steely President Coin, bringing just the right amount of gravitas and soul to a rather thinly drawn role. - Screen Daily

 

Moore's Coin unsurprisingly emerges as the ensemble's MVP, her steely intelligence and no-nonsense leadership marking her as yet another manifestation of the franchise's refreshing gender politics. - Variety

 

Cast additions include Julianne Moore as President Coin – coolly spearheading 13's campaign of war against Snow's regime – and Natalie Dormer as media-weapon Cressida. The pair join Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket) to form a mighty quartet of female talent who capably steal the show and ensure that Mockingjay passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. - Hey U Guys

 

Speaking of Gender Politics

 

As seen above, many are praising the abundance of strong female characters in the Hunger Games franchise, but critics are equivocal about Katniss as a feminist role model. While she's undoubtedly a role model for young girls in general, some critics are wary of calling her characterization "feminist" as a result of her relative passivity in many areas and her constant fretting over Peeta's safety in the latest installment:

 

Though Katniss Everdeen may not quite qualify as feminist icon she is unquestionably a refreshing and empowering example for audiences coming of age in a superhero-heavy world. Take note, Hollywood. - Hey U Guys

 

One of the ironies of the franchise is how Katniss has become the de-facto female superhero in Hollywood even as the character is a mostly passive survivor and yearns to leave the fighting to others and live a somewhat normal life... when I tell you that Katniss is even more passive and reactionary than usual, with almost no moments of onscreen heroism, that's not so much a criticism as an acknowledgement of the tricky nature of how these films are perceived... It is worth noting that Hollywood is so short on female action heroes that we have anointed as the would-be queen of action heroines a character who barely participates in said freedom fighting and is used mostly as a false symbol by those around her. - Forbes

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1