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Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1.” Photo by Murray Close
Arts News

Film review: ‘Mockingjay’ marks satisfying beginning of the end

The exciting first of two sections in what is actually one big third film, “Mockingjay — Part 1” marks a satisfying beginning of the end for “The Hunger Games” series.

At this point I think it’s unlikely that this young-adult franchise can do any wrong. When you have a firm foundation and a splendid sequel, it’s fair to say the final chapter stands little chance of losing ground. Sure, there’s the daunting fact that third installments usually don’t impress, but, in this case, the outcome already seems encouraging.

With the first part of “Mockingjay” now taking effect, I can see the possibility of total victory becoming a reality, because, from what I know, it indicates that the rest of this dystopian saga is in good hands.

Shortly after destroying the Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) ends up in District 13, where President Coin (Julianne Moore) persuades her to become the rebellion’s symbol of hope as they begin waging war against the tyrannical Capitol. At the same time, however, Katniss is concerned about her friend, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been captured by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Having increased its forward momentum since the previous two films, “Mockingjay — Part 1” quickly brings the audience up to speed on current affairs, namely, what’s been going on in the nation of Panem since “Catching Fire.” And as the onscreen Districts-Capitol relations continue to get worse, it’s important to keep up with such a gripping, fast-paced conflict.

Knowing this, director Francis Lawrence holds nothing back in highlighting this two-part finale’s darker mood, as seen in the widespread death and destruction committed by an unrepentant tyrant and in the effect that the power of the media has on everybody. Much like how he did in the previous second chapter, he has a good grip on the political themes present.

This leads us into the action-packed element, now bigger and more explosive than ever.

Audiences will find much to appreciate in the moments where Katniss employs her Mockingjay responsibilities, not to mention during the sequences when the various Districts start giving the Capitol a taste of its own medicine. And to think, this is a mere glimpse of what is to come!

Most essential to the success of “Mockingjay — Part 1” is the fact that the characters’ emotions are still compelling and real, and therefore do not lose either their impact or their purpose as the spectacular clash between the two factions escalates. Each cast member is an active participant, which helps to immerse audiences in the heart of the revolution.

As the series’ leading lady, the able Jennifer Lawrence has proven herself time and time again, and her significance here is just as pivotal. She handles her character’s fragile emotions and newfound strength with clarity and sensitivity, thereby taking the next steps needed for Katniss to adapt to the ever-changing situation that threatens to break her resolve.

Liam Hemsworth shines in his chance to exude Gale’s passion for the rebellion’s cause, and Josh Hutcherson is solid in conveying Peeta’s psychological changes. And, at this point, nothing can stop Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and Jeffrey Wright from successfully lighting up the screen with their supporting roles.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to impress with his ability to inhabit Plutarch’s wit and extensive political know-how, adding more depth to what he established in “Catching Fire.” And if you think Donald Sutherland couldn’t get more cruel and ruthless as President Snow, you’ll be intimidated at just how devious the man can be when he wants to send a message.

On a final note, Julianne Moore brings a charismatic combination of intelligence and warmth to President Coin, and demonstrates she has what it takes to manage the rebellion’s leadership.

As for Natalie Dormer, she is suitably stylish and media-savvy as Cressida, the half-shaved/tattooed camera director.

It may only be the first part, but it appears “Mockingjay” is already off to a good start in concluding “The Hunger Games” series.

One half has succeeded, and now it’s up to the other half (which comes out next year) to determine how well the story of Katniss Everdeen turns out.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic materials.

Run time: 2 hours 3 minutes

Playing: In general release