I’ll put the disclaimer out there now: my undying girl crush on Jennifer Lawrence might mean I’m just a little bit biased in saying that, once again, she is absolutely stunning as the series’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen. After having escaped the Hunger Games a second time, Katniss is tasked with becoming the face of the rebellion of the oppressed, impoverished Districts of Panem against the Capitol. With her friend and lover Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) held captive by President Snow in the Capitol, Katniss must lead the rebels under the guidance of District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his final role).
As Katniss, Lawrence believably portrays the traumatic stress of someone constantly forced to choose between killing or being killed, while living with the constant fear of those she loves being taken from her. The supporting cast is rounded out by Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as Katniss’s mentors (who give the film some much-needed comic relief), Natalie Dormer (speaking of girl crushes…) as the director of the propaganda videos Katniss must star in, and Sam Claflin as one of Katniss’s fellow rebels and former Hunger Games victor. They’re all great, but other characters were a bit lacking: it seems like Katniss’s best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) only serves to further the cliche love triangle plotline involving him, Peeta and Katniss. And it still seems like Katniss lacks chemistry with her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields), even though their relationship is central to the entire story.
The film does an excellent job of portraying the desolation of the districts and contrasting it with the extravagance of the Capitol. The shots of District 13 are dark and feel claustrophobic, matching the desperation of the District’s citizens. But the movie falters with its pacing--the great performances and cinematography don’t quite make up for the lack of action. A lot of time is spent setting things up for the finale, and by the time things really start picking up, it’s cut to black and the credits are rolling. Of course, this has a lot to do with the nature of splitting one book into two movies- only the second one is going to have the exciting climax and ultimate conclusion. But the other issue is that Mockingjay just isn’t that great a book; it’s slow-moving and overlong. Considering that, at the very least Francis Lawrence was able to improve upon the source material: what few actions scenes the film has are compelling, mostly thanks to the leading lady.
Even though Mockingjay: Part 1 is probably the weakest entry in the series so far, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (the first two films set the standard pretty darn high). This film takes the time necessary to set everything up for what should be a very satisfying conclusion.