The saying about half a loaf being better than none seems to hold for the first part of the Hunger Games series’ final chapter, although not everyone’s in the mood for bread. The first reviews of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” are split between those who credit the deepening subtext of Suzanne Collins’ books, and those who find the movie falling afoul of its own social critique. After the public act of governmental subversion that closed “Catching Fire,” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself being exploited as a symbol of popular uprising the same way she was once used to prop up the Capitol’s decadent oligarchy: She’s a revolutionary leader as marketable commodity. The trouble, for skeptical critics, is that the books’ nifty thematic twist is undermined by the movies’ overwhelming commercial presence: The very fact that “Mockingjay” was split into two movies speaks to the extent to which financial considerations, and not political allegory, are the films’ primary engine. But many critics — it seems to be an even split — find the idea of Katniss as product powerful enough to overcome any contradictions inherent in the blockbuster process. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” opens November 21.
Reviews of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”
Justin Chang, Variety
A tricky transitional episode of “The Hunger Games” franchise that abandons the reality-TV bloodsports of the first two movies to conjure a dour, grimly escalating vision of all-out war. Unsubtly resonant, at times quite rousing and somewhat unsatisfying by design, 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.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Up to a point, this process is engaging and somewhat amusing, even if a little dialectical montage would have been welcome along the way, just for fun. 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.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
Perhaps by default my favorite film in the franchise thus far. It is a far less overly “exciting” affair, with very little action and most of its running time given over to the plotting of action. The acting is stellar per usual and the production design puts most of the other would-be Young Adult fantasy franchises to shame in terms of scale and ambition. But the fact remains that very little happens in this penultimate chapter, as it’s mostly about establishing what will occur in Part 2.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
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.
Geoffrey Macnab, Telegraph
The film doesn’t exactly disappoint but nor does it satisfy. There is a half a sandwich feel to the latest installment — a sense that the film makers have denied us a full experience by splitting the movie into two.
Henry Barnes, the Guardian
“Mockingjay” has pace, but Lawrence has none of the flair of original “Hunger Games” director Gary Ross, who captured the genuine terror of being trapped inside a game of kill-or-be-killed. Rebel Katniss is somehow less fun than the woman Stanley Tucci’s TV host labelled The Girl on Fire. Yet she must fight on against the Capitol. Panem demands it. The franchise demands it more. “Mockingjay Part 2” will round out the action this time next year. In the meantime Part 1 is a likeable preamble, a moment to let the flames die down before adding more fuel. “Fire is catching!” yells Katniss. Yes, but it’s taking its time.
Alonso Duralde, the Wrap
Bringing aboard Danny Strong (who co-adapts Suzanne Collins‘ novel with Peter Craig of “The Town”) was a wise move; Strong, after all, has shown a gift for taking the big ideas of politics and historical sweep and slicing them down to bite-size chunks, first in the HBO movies “Recount” and “Game Change” and then on the big screen with “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” “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.
Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend
“Mockingjay Part 1” can be best categorized as a war film, but what impressively sets it apart from its blockbuster brethren is the surprisingly little dependence that it has on action sequences, explosions and on-screen violence. Instead, it opts for a much more fascinating political and personal approach, as we see through Katniss’ eyes what it takes to motivate revolution and its extreme cost.
James Rocchi, About.com
Katniss isn’t a warrior-heroine anymore, though — she’s a product launch, a marketing campaign, and while she wants to fight, she’s more valuable as a symbol who can inspire others to die in her name. Director Francis Lawrence handles the big transition in the saga’s plotline smoothly, as the series goes from hunters-and-hunted action movies to a thriller/war-movie structure and Katniss goes from sister to soldier to symbol.
Devin Faraci, Badass Digest
The “Hunger Games” films are strikingly brilliant critiques of the military-entertainment complex. The people of Panem are hypnotized by their TV shows, and their entertainments are crafted as cynical ploys to control them. But that system of control can be subverted; “The Hunger Games” was all about Katniss figuring out how to use the system to benefit herself, while “Catching Fire” was about Katniss using the system to disrupt itself. Now with “Mockingjay” she’s out to destroy it, although in Part 1 the thematic impact of that isn’t fully felt.
Mark Adams, Screen International
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 that may impact on the return viewers that have made the series such a box office success.
Kevin Harley, Total Film
If Gary Ross’s first “Hunger Games” flick benefitted from lunging fast into the arena, “Catching Fire” repeated the trick and proved it stood repeating. 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.
Simon Reynolds, Digital Spy
Simply put, this is the franchise’s strongest outing by a country mile; a smart and intelligently-made Trojan Horse of a film that touches on the trauma of conflict, bending the will of individuals and masses, and all-out revolution. All this impressively housed within the framework of a polished Hollywood blockbuster. In an age when dumb multiplex-fillers like “Transformers: Age of Extinction” stretch on for close to 3 hours and seemingly erode viewers’ IQ for the duration, what a marvel this film is for getting to the point quickly and not patronizing or dumbing down for its audience.