The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

This is a strange film series for me. I loved the first episode, notably because it seemed to tell a complete story. So much so that I didn’t feel the need to rush to see the second movie, which I only caught up to when it hit Netflix. For better or worse, that second flick very much didn’t tell a complete story, ending just it was about to get really exciting. As such, I was quite eager to see what came next and I wound up deciding to go see the third installment…

Which turned out to be by far my least favorite in the series so far. You know how I just wrote that “Catching Fire” ended just as it was about to get really exciting? Turns out that was a false impression. Whatever excitement is in store will apparently have to wait until “Mockingjay – Part 2” comes out next year; “Part 1” is just the setup. Heck, it’s a placeholder.

The first act is particularly dull, as we find Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) holed up in District 13, more precisely in the rebels’ underground base, a gloomy place filled with gloomy people all dressed in grey jumpsuits. Katniss has a meeting with Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and rebel president Alma Coin (a grey-haired Julianne Moore, reuniting with her “Magnolia” costar one last time), in the first of many exposition dumps. There are riots and uprisings and strikes throughout Panem, but more often than not, we’re told about it instead of being shown.

Much of “Mockingjay – Part 1” deals with a propaganda campaign being prepared by the rebels, who want to use Katniss as the face of the revolution. Meanwhile, the Capitol is similarly using the captured Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as a propaganda tool, which is painful to see for Katniss, who’s still torn between the equally bland Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) in a love triangle I couldn’t care less about. And then people wait around, they cry a lot, they wander in their grey jumpsuits…

There’s a mostly solid cast assembled here, which also includes Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali and Woody Harrelson, but they spend a lot of time choking on exposition. Things momentarily pick up in the second act when Katniss goes into a warzone and there are planes bombing buildings and machine guns being fired, plus Katniss shoots 1 (one) arrow… But not only is that the only time Jennifer Lawrence sees action in the film, but as directed by Francis Lawrence, it’s also not even a very thrilling a scene.

In many ways, this misguided sequel made me think of “The Matrix Reloaded”, but at least the Wachowski’s exposition-filled middle-episode tale of gloomy underground rebels featured one or two truly awesome set pieces. Here, none of the (few) action scenes really connect and save for a pretty wicked final twist, there’s nothing all that memorable that happens.

As disappointed as I was by “Mockingjay – Part 1”, I’ll probably go see “Part 2” anyway next year. That’s the last film, they’ll have to finally show us the revolution then, right?