There was a big premiere in London last night, and the first reviews are in.
“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,” finds the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “The final installment of Suzanne Collins’s blockbuster trilogy wasn’t naturally designed to be broken down into two segments. However, after the producers of the Harry Potter and Twilight series doubled their financial pleasure by dividing those series’ climactic stories into two distinct films, how was Lionsgate to resist doing the same with its own gold mine, given that the two previous Katniss chronicles have together grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide?”
It’s “all queue, no roller-coaster,” agrees the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “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 third book in the trilogy “runs to 27 chapters plus epilogue. Francis Lawrence’s film takes us a page or so into chapter 13, which is just around the point that the subterranean scheming eases off and things actually start to happen.”
The 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,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang.
Still, the movie’s got its champions. Here’s Sophie Monks Kaufman for Little White Lies: “The Hunger Games has renewed its position as the godmother of young adult movie dystopias. Mockingjay Part 1 locks you into a revolutionary fight chamber with irresistible force, but allows humanity and individualism to bubble amid the destruction while also essaying a cracking interpretation of media in modern warfare. A film with the full title of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 may sound too self-consciously like a franchise building block to be best in series so far. And yet it is.”
“And best of all, in Katniss The Hunger Games has one of the all-time great heroines: strong, smart, stubborn, angry and full of heart,” adds Time Out‘s Cath Clarke.
“Without the Hunger Games themselves the film lacks a solid structure,” argues the Guardian‘s Henry Barnes. “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. The gaudy pizzazz of The Capitol, with its Flock of Seagulls inspired fashions and tasteless revelry, is absent…. In the Wachowski siblings’ Matrix trilogy the imaginary world of The Matrix was limitlessly exciting, while the ‘real-life’ underground city of Zion was muddy and miserable. Similarly, life on (or under) the ground in Panem is a grind. In contrast President Snow’s baroque sense of cruelty is rather appealing.”
“The shadow of Philip Seymour Hoffman hangs over the film to an extent (he died during shooting and the film is dedicated to him), and his character of rebellion spin-doctor Plutarch Heavensbee manages to have a strong impact on the film, with the subtext about media manipulation a strong aspect of the story,” notes Screen‘s Mark Adams. “A welcome addition to the cast is Julianne Moore as the steely President Coin, bringing just the right amount of gravitas and soul to a rather thinly drawn role.”
“Along with casting [Jennifer] Lawrence, one of the filmmakers’ best decisions at the outset of Hunger Games was to fill the series with redoubtable character actors like Hoffman, Moore, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright and Stanley Tucci,” writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. “They bring a gravitas and wit to the project that counters the callow performances of some of the younger actors.”
Update, 11/13: “Katniss’s emotional temperature has cooled; she’s dazed and confused, depressed and logy, and so is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss.
Updates, 11/23: “Each Hunger Games movie makes so much noise—it’s where the deafening clamor of commerce meets the roar of true fan love—that it’s a wonder you can detect the human heartbeat under the tumult,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “But it’s there, thumping and sometimes racing in a franchise that, more than most industrial movies and even putative indies, speaks to both its audience and its time. There’s heart in the vague yet stirring liberation story that comes to the fore in this chapter and that’s echoed in real-life struggles around the world. And it’s there, of course, in Katniss, the backwoods savior who, as played with guileless appeal by Jennifer Lawrence, is mounting an attack on the forces of oppression.”
“Katniss Everdeen is a military-industrial survivalist heroine in a world where diplomacy counts for nothing, inequality is systematically enforced, idealism is laughable and the only language those in power understand is force,” writes Bidisha for Sight & Sound. “Depressingly, Katniss is no more outnumbered within imaginary Panem than any action, science fiction or fantasy film heroine is in the real world…. Have we actually regressed from the days in which Sarah Connor, played by a ripped Linda Hamilton in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), turned herself into a warrior and survived—more than 20 years ago now?”
“Why this film, rightly described as one of the grimmest dystopian movies of the decade, is being lapped up by teenage girls fascinates me,” writes Suzanne Moore in the Guardian. “If you don’t ‘get’ why Jennifer Lawrence is such a huge presence, watch her as Katniss Everdeen, where she earths the dark energy of the intensely violent films.”
And “it’s mostly an epic of inaction,” notes Michael Sragow, writing for Film Comment. “I mean that as a compliment…. Mockingjay 1 whips up both mordant and melancholy moods. The movie’s power comes from keen observations of its one-of-a-kind heroine, who barely manages to pick her way through political minefields and pitched combat. As Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence embodies a quality rare in American pop movies: heroic confusion. Both Lawrences, director and actor, pull the audience into Katniss’s inchoate longings, shriveling sorrows, and conflicting loyalties.”
More from Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Paul Constant (Stranger), Eric Davis (Movies.com), A.A. Dowd (AV Club, B-), Robert Horton (Herald), Kimberley Jones (Austin Chronicle, 2.5/5), Mark Kermode (Observer, 4.5), Richard Larson (Slant, 3/4), Sophie Mayer (Sight & Sound), Christopher Orr (Atlantic), Nicolas Rapold (L), Lisa Rosman (Word & Film), Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com, 2.5/4), Megan Seling (Nashville Scene) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed).
Update, 11/24: “Reconciling the puniness of Katniss Everdeen’s boyfriend dilemma with the scale of the political violence erupting around her was somehow less morally vexing in the first two chapters, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire,” finds Slate‘s Dana Stevens. “Perhaps that’s because Katniss and her preternaturally loyal sweethearts, baker Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and game-tracker Gale (Liam Hemsworth) were the chief action protagonists of those films, responsible for using their skill and wit to survive.” Here, “the symbolic wars of the Hunger Games—staged as cathartic spectacles for a depraved aristocracy—have given way to real war, state terror, and armed rebellion on a grand scale. It’s harder to care about the question of whether she’s just that into him (or him) when an entire hospital is full of wounded civilians are being firebombed.”
For Vulture, Jennifer Vineyard talks with director Francis Lawrence.
Listening (28’01”). Dana Stevens and Willa Paskin discuss Mockingjay 1 in a Slate “Spoiler Special.”
Update, 11/29: “As a movie hero for teenage girls, Lawrence as Katniss is a far less dispiriting candidate than most of the alternatives,” writes Lidija Haas for the London Review of Books. “Her charisma is not merely seductive but persuasive. When she described the theft of naked photos of her as a ‘sex crime’ in Vanity Fair, those among us who’d searched for them on the internet were given pause, even if we weren’t ready to concede that we’d been ‘perpetuating’ any such thing. She wasn’t going to be embarrassed, she said, but people who looked ought to be: ‘You should cower with shame.’ She can’t escape the treatment all Hollywood women receive, but it’s to her credit that no one expects her to smile and take it.”
Update, 12/9: “The Hunger Games is a story about civil war over forms of government and control of the means of production,” writes Jedediah Purdy for n+1. “According to its own dialogue: a battle for democracy, justice, and the fruits of labor. But it also portrays a world in which a serious argument about politics is unimaginable, because politics, although worthy of a war, raises no hard or even interesting questions. It is just possible that this makes The Mockingjay: Part I the political movie for our time.”