With the next installment of The Hunger Games franchise, Katniss & company try really hard to keep audiences engaged. 

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): The numbers are in and The Hunger Games will go down as one of the most beloved movie franchises in Hollywood history. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen–heroine of the downtrodden–takes on political corruption and societal oppression in this landmark series of fiction books–and now films. As installment three in what is (presently) a four-film story arc, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is clearly the set-up for the ‘beginning of the end’ of the terror-riddled reign of the Capitol over the 13 enslaved districts. The story picks up some time after the end of THG: Catching Fire. Speaking of fire, were you burning with desire to see this flick Mr. Pontificator? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I was indeed sitting in fiery anticipation of this film, Vader. The third installment of Hunger Games picks right up where the second film left off. In the continuing story of Katniss Everdeen, we are closing in on the final curtain and it will either be the freedom of the oppressed, or their continued subjugation. Personally I’m hoping for the freedom, but wouldn’t the latter be one heck of a plot twist? 


CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING

AV: You know, it would, Pontificator. It might even make the franchise more compelling. Like all modern futuristic fantasy flicks of late, the cinematography of the Hunger Games movies is terrific. The visual effects are very good. And the cast is, well, all the usual suspects. J-Law brings her normal well-presented intensity to her Heroine. Woody (I still can’t jump) Harrelson joins all the pretty young faces to reprise their classic roles. The great Donald (President Snow) Sutherland and the late (and also great) Phillip Seymour Hoffman round out the super cast of Mockingjay, part 1. Surprisingly, Vienna-born Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) who has directed such sci-fi hits such as I Am Legend, Constantine and Catching Fire, tries like heck to bring a rather boring, calculated screenplay to a better place but to no avail. Thoughts Mr. P? 


TP: All the usual suspects are back (as you have covered)… with some new faces added to the mix. Julianne Moore debuts as President Coin and delivers the role of a leader that doesn’t have all the answers, but seemingly knows when to take guidance in those times of ignorance. Mahershala Ali (from one of my all-time favorite television series, 4400) also debuts as the premier military man on the side of the people. Natalie Dormer (of Game of Thrones fame) introduces us to Cressida, a defector from the Capitol with a singular talent for film. Admittedly this film takes a different tone than the first two in the series, but the pace is still steady and the buildup to the final film is definitely palatable. 


SPECIAL EFFECTS

AV: Oh I wish I could agree, sir. Perhaps you are a more insightful movie watcher than I am. When it comes to SFX, the visual effects in this film are decent but the story is so muddled, I found it hard to simply sit-still and try to endure the onset of wrist-watching, yawning and the fluttering ever-heavier eyelids, For me, Mockingjay just never really took off. There is frighteningly little that can be called a visual effects in this film as everything simply feels like something I've seen in the past. Would you agree P-Man?


TP: I would have to disagree, oh Dark One, about the sentiments in the beginning of your paragraph, but agree on the latter. Great special effects is what I expected, and that’s exactly what I got. There was no new ground broken here, just everything we have seen before done the same way as before. That in itself might be a detraction since with every new film we hope to find better effects than the last, but I submit that it is also a blessing to not be subjected to worse effects than previous films. There isn’t too much to say about explosions and the plethora of aircraft shots except that they were consistent to expectations…as was the set designs and costuming.


TAKING A DEEPER LOOK

AV: What surprised me the most was how downright boring this film was. I watch a good number of films over the course off a year and they range from blockbusters to indie films and beyond. The film seemed to only set the stage for the next one. It served no viable storytelling purpose as the characters sort of saunter from scene to scene. Whats more, I have a ton of additional concerns that were left unanswered that leave this film hanging for me. First, no one else has called it out so I will; it is IMPOSSIBLE to bring down two advanced, state-of-the-art fighter jets  with an explosive tip arrow. Could you do this to an F-35 or an F-22 Raptor? No. In one of the film’s three (yes, 3) action scenes, Katniss brings down two jet fighters with an arrow. Wha–!? 


Here is the deeper issue for me. This film is targeted to young people (mostly young girls), tweens to early 20’s. This franchise speaks to political unfairness. The injustices the elite visit upon the downtrodden and social inequities of a violent caste system that forces young people to eviscerate each other for sport because the government “says so.” Are any of these young women even ‘getting’ this? Do they even care? Or is this just more “cool warrior chick” stuff like a Ripley, Sarah Connor or that dopey Twilight girl that has already faded from memory? And if not, why does this film series even bother? 


And the dialogue, oh God. Listen old friend, I struggle as it is with many of this year’s films in this genre. The two Hercules films, Transformers 4, The Giver and Sin City 2. This has NOT been a stellar year for the spoken word onscreen for sci-fi flicks. This movie is no different. Katniss goes from refusing to be the voice/face of the rebellion to essentially “ok I’ll do it” inside of 20 just minutes. Here’s a hint Hollywood, we already knew she would agree. Please stop wasting our time. Help me out here, Pontificator, please tell me I'm on the wrong track. 


TP: Well… clearly I wasn’t nearly as displeased as you were old friend, so I don’t think I’m going to be much help. This film departs from the disturbing subject matter of children killing children and instead gets grounded in the more palatable struggle of an oppressed society seeking to break free of their oppressors. This is a familiar story that has been seen in reality many times…and it’s just eerie how the film parallels much of the current climate of out of control law enforcement. Just as profound as that is the use of the media in the film (and similarly in reality)  to paint carefully crafted pictures of what special interests want others to believe as truth. This was the draw of the film for me as watching it simply highlighted the state of the world today, although not yet to the degree that Panem is. Yes the film had less violence and action as the previous ones, but the reflection it gave was so much more interesting… and relevant.

ON SEQUELS

AV: Unfortunately, the inane use of the term “Part 1” right in the title implies their are subsequent follow-up “parts.” (Sigh) That means we all have to sit through another 2+ hours of J-Law making more uninteresting speeches about rising up against the capitol, something no one in the world should even need to have to hear. The real depressing news is that we can likely expect more of the same in “Part 2.” 


TP: We all know there is one more film set to drop to complete the series… in 2015, and I’m looking forward to it. 

RATE IT!


ARTH VADER rates The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1: Audiences have already spoken with their wallets and their attendance so my review may be moot. However, if you haven’t seen this film, I would encourage waiting for it to come to HBO/NetFlix/Red Box or whatever post-theater viewing venue you prefer. For me, this film is NOT good. Its’ boring with a paper-thin plot, amateurish dialogue, and woefully poor story pacing. And while I freely admit I’m outside the demographic of this film–or even this franchise–I couldn’t stomach giving this installment of Hunger Games more than three (3) Busted Blocks.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1: With the film moving out of the arena and pulling up alongside real life, it had a different, but no less interesting, tone. The ideologies of right and wrong meet in the middle when the same tactics are used by both sides to advance their narrative, whatever it might be… which is why this film shoots down seven (7) busted blocks in the name of freedom. 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay:  5 / 10 Busted Blocks