While The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is bigger and better than the original film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 goes underground, literally and figuratively, into the darkness. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) must first overcome the shock of another horrific experience, although she doesn’t have enough time to process the events. She’s been tabbed as the “Mockingjay,” and the rebellion led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) must be planned swiftly. Although Katniss is afforded several moments to gently weep and come to grips with the demolishment of District 12, the production of numerous propaganda videos (“propos”) must be presented to the public to gain support. In a rather hilarious sequence, Alma and Plutarch discover that Ms. Everdeen may be the worst actress around; as a result, she is given free reign to speak honestly while navigating the destruction.
Back at the Capital, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has exploited the psychological devastation of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and utilizes him as the new face of Capitol TV. And so, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 slowly transforms from a dark, psychological thriller into a “Save Peeta” love story. If the audience can’t tell that President Snow has brainwashed the young man, the appearance of dark rings beneath his eyes convey the obvious. It’s yet another unnecessary plot device.
All in all, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 offers plenty to enjoy as the audience waits for the Peeta scenario to unfold. Lawrence is simply marvelous again and delivers a surprisingly beautiful vocal performance that demonstrates her well-rounded talent as a performer. Just as the pitch-perfect voice of Anne Hathaway makes for great musical numbers, Lawrence’s raspy tone is perfect for a Young Adult rebellion leader. Perhaps the Academy Award winner may never sing again on camera, but we know that she has the goods.
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Liam Hemsworth’s Gale Hawthorne continues to bore, but Natalie Dormer kills with her partially shaved head and raw sex appeal as Cressida. She seems to have absorbed all the personality that Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) once had and saves The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 from becoming a two-hour J-Law show. Of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman appears in his last role and delivers a quietly hilarious performance as the Hype Man for Katniss.
Technically, Francis Lawrence proves capable of visually guiding the franchise to the final chapter and undoubtedly knows how to frame his star. He seems most efficient when working with less, whether it’s Katniss alone in a hospital room or two characters navigating the woods. Although the sound design is both frightening and wonderful in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, the franchise is at its best when Katniss speaks through her actions — not by explaining how a cat affected her decision-making.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.