The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1: Katniss’ words fall flat

2 out of 4 stars

Doesn't Katniss Everdeen look a lot like Joan of Arc? (Courtesy of Lionsgate)
Doesn’t Katniss Everdeen look like Joan of Arc? (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Feel free to throw a penalty flag.

The Hunger Games is three books, yet Hollywood is trying to squeeze every last golden egg out of the Mockingjay by taking Suzanne Collins’ final installment in her dystopian death-sport trilogy and making it two.

Why not? The Hunger Games debuted in 2012 to $691.2 million worldwide. A year later, its sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, raked in $864.5 million, which basically guaranteed Lionsgate would turn the final book, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Par t 1, into as many movies as possible.

The cinematic strategy that worked for the endings of the Twilight and Harry Potter series will work even better for Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) because the world has fallen in love with the baddest chick on Panem –  and there’s no turning back now.

But there’s a major problem with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Park 1. It’s not a movie. It’s a half movie, or better yet, a preview for the final installment – you guessed it! – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, which will hit theaters the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2015.

Those who haven’t read Collins’ young-adult series will be surprised to learn there are no Hunger Games in a movie called Hunger Games. The sadistic Hunger Games – the government-mandated, televised event in which mostly sexy teenagers fight to the death in front of a debauched audience – were destroyed by one well-placed Everdeen arrow near the end of Catching Fire.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 really should be called The Propganda Games – Katniss Wants Your Money Part 1.

The movie opens with Katniss awakening in the sterile, rebel outpost of District 13 after her home in District 12 was obliterated by the government because she had the audacity to ruin the Hunger Games.

But rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore wearing a silver Cruella De Vil wig) and her propaganda pro Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) are hoping you who can be the leader of a burgeoning revolution against the Capitol and its fascistic leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is back as propaganda master Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is back as propaganda master Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

The film starts to unravel when Katniss is relegated from being one of the greatest woman warriors in movie history to doing propaganda intended to rile the districts into going to war. Instead of leading by action, she’s leading by talking, which basically makes her a politician in a Joan of Arc costume who just so happens to be armed with explosive arrows.

Lawrence makes the most of a role in which she’s asked to do a lot less compared to the first two films.

The way Katniss longs for her BFF Peeta Millark (Josh Hutcherson), who has been kidnapped and has become the face of government propaganda, is believable.

The way she looks after her mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister (Willow Shields) is credible.

The sexual tension that’s been building between Katniss and her District 12 homeboy Gale (Liam Hemsworth) for years is undeniable.

But Katniss is too busy hanging with a District 13 film crew urging her to deliver the speech of the century that she forgets to do what she does best, which is kick ass, not talk shit.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is a lot like the weeks leading to an election, when opposing candidates buy blocks of commercials telling you why their ideas are the ones of angels and their opponents’ beliefs belong to the devil.

But how much build up is too much? Can you spend an entire movie dedicated to Katniss running her mouth while everyone else does the dirty work? Sure, if it’s warranted. But in this case, it’s not. The Hunger Games, in 2012, was two hours, 22 minutes. Catching Fire is 2:26.

Haymitch Abernathy isn't the same when he's sober, which is the case in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.
Haymitch Abernathy isn’t the same when he’s sober, which is the case in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is 2:03. You’re telling me you can’t tack on a final 30 minutes in which the districts successfully storm the Capitol and have Katniss live happily ever after?

Hell no. It would cost too much money. Listen, I don’t blame Lionsgate for breaking the final book into two movies, because I would, too. I’m pretty there’s a rule that you don’t ever leave $735 million on the table, which is the average of the first two Hunger Games films.

The Hunger Games franchise is on pace to make $3 billion at just the box office, which is enough money for Katniss to turn Panem into Beverly Hills once she’s president.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

Katniss isn’t the only character who has been dumbed down. Remember the eccentric Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and her wardrobe that made a rainbow blush? She’s been shunned from the Capitol to District 13, where she’s relegated to wearing a grey jumpsuit.

And my goodness, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is so much more likable as the drunk he was in the first two films than the sober nobody he is in the third film.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is like spending two hours watching the Super Bowl’s pregame show, yet knowing you’re going to have to wait a year to see the game.

It’s like spending two years of flirting with the girl next door, holding hands, staring deeply into each other eyes and when you lean in for a kiss, you drift out of consciousness, as Katniss whispers in your ear “come back next year and bring your $12 with you.”

That’s not a cliff hanger.

That’s just plain wrong.