“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” bides its time. In doing so, the film diminishes the impact of its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and mutes the urgency in Suzanne Collins’ futuristic “Hunger Games” novels.
Breaking book No. 3 of the “Hunger Games” trilogy into two movies, the filmmakers responsible for “Mockingjay — Part 1” deliver an often slow, brooding, stilted excuse for a movie. Storytelling and entertainment are pushed aside. Big box office receipts are the only reason “Mockingjay — Part 1” exists.
Despite being stretched to more than two hours, “Part 1” holds some inspiring scenes. They belong to Jennifer Lawrence. After winning an Oscar for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” and an Oscar nomination for “American Hustle,” Lawrence does passionate work in “Mockingjay — Part 1,” despite the stalled vehicle in which she appears.
The movie devotes much of its 125 minutes to developing Lawrence’s Katniss as a brand. The brave, principled young woman who won the 74th Hunger Games and then dared to defy Panem’s cruel leader, President Snow. Now she’s been picked to be the face of the revolution.
Following Snow’s destruction of District 12, Katniss’ home region, rebels from District 13 rescued her. District 13, has suffered tremendously under Snow’s and The Capitol’s brutality. But District 13, thought to be obliterated, continues to exist in a vast underground facility.
District 13’s President Coin, played by a frosty Julianne Moore, and her right-hand man, Plutarch Heavensbee, played by an oddly whimsical Philip Seymour Hoffman, want Katniss to be their Joan of Arc. Of course, they’d rather that Katniss and District 13’s survivors not go up in flames, as the Maid of Orléans did in 15th century France.
In District 13’s underground hideaway, Katniss, President Coin and the other soldiers of the rebellion wear their green military work uniforms. Unlike previous “Hunger Games” movies, the new film’s costume designer — with the exception of Katniss’ sleek, black Mockingjay outfit — must have had little to do. Likewise the film’s audience has little to watch.
President Coin, standing stiffly from on high, gives supposedly inspiring speeches to the masses below. In reality, her pep talks are dull. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Hoffman’s Plutarch mumbles and frets. The late actor must have written “Mockingjay — Part 1” off as a prelude to the real “Mockingjay” movie to come.
Plutarch and President Coin pitch their idea to Katniss that she can be Mockingjay, the courageous figure around whom the districts will unite against The Capitol. Reluctant at first, Katniss soon agrees, but she has a few conditions. One of them inspires of the movie’s best laugh. That laugh is a small bone tossed to hungry audiences, in advance of “Mockingjay — Part 2” coming to a theater near you Nov. 20, 2015.
After District 13’s video production team fails to produce an inspirational propaganda video starring Katniss in their home studio, the team travels with her to District 8, another district in ruins.
The field trip to a District 8 hospital full of wounded civilians delivers the goods two-fold. President Coin gets a great propaganda video and the movie-going audience gets a taste of what “The Hunger Games” can be.
But in the larger scheme of things, the one-two punch that the bow-and-arrow wielding Katniss unleashes in District 8 is only a tease. “Mockingjay — Part 1” was predestined to not satisfy. Really, nothing much happens.