The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 opens where Catching Fire left off. Katniss is in District 13 and pressured by leaders of the uprising against the Capitol to become the face of the rebellion.
Peeta, who wasn’t rescued from the arena at the end of Catching Fire, is doing the same thing as part of President Snow’s propaganda campaign to stop the uprising. A systematic war of terror is begun in the districts, and Snow is having people executed as examples.
This drives a reluctant Katniss to become the Mockingjay and to do high-tech commercials urging the people to fight. Worries about Peeta and people being killed because of her actions puts Katniss — who just wants to be left alone — in that uncomfortable space between the proverbial rock and its hard place.
That’s where most of Mockingjay — Part 1 sits and, unfortunately, stays.
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Once in awhile, director Francis Lawrence — who did Catching Fire — and new writers Peter Craig ( The Town) and Danny Strong ( Lee Daniels’ The Butler) give us a bit of effect-filled action. But it’s not enough to give much motion to the movie. Most of what we get is a brooding Katniss torn between love of Peeta and worry for him, and what seems to be a real passion for her best bud Gale.
It’s sleep-inducing slow and leads to two observations.
The first deals with why the franchise producers changed writers for Mockingjay. While it was huge at the box office, the first film — The Hunger Games — was so-so. Not once did I care about or worry about Katniss or Peeta. There was zip for tension, and it had a paint-by-numbers conclusion.
Catching Fire saw the producers change writers. They hired Oscar and other prestigious award winners Simon Beaufoy, who penned Slumdog Millionaire, and Little Miss Sunshine’s Michael Arndt. The result was electric. A more mature direction had me — and the rest of us — anticipating a riveting sequel.
It didn’t happen. The lame writing of Craig and Strong is partly to blame. The Katniss pity party quickly grows old, and the two writers and Lawrence push the franchise from maturity to old age. It moves with the speed of an 80-year-old in a walker, which leads us to the second observation.
Mockingjay — Part 1 is part one of a story that doesn’t warrant two parts. Or if it does, then the script needed to get deeper into the characters and the freedom themes of Suzanne Collins’ books. Craig, Strong and Lawrence don’t get there.
Some critics contend the third Hunger Games book is Collins’ worst and weakest. They may be right. After seeing part one, it’s hard to disagree. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 is all mock and not much movie.