As the title indicates, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1" is an opening salvo, the first half of the two-part finale to the blockbuster franchise based on Suzanne Collins' dystopian book series. For moviegoers, the big question is whether the decision to split Collins' final novel into two films represents a brazen cash-grab or an effective prelude to the highly anticipated climax.
According to movie critics, the answer lies somewhere in between. Many reviews say "Mockingjay — Part 1" feels stretched out, but it also benefits from another strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence and some welcome political edge.
Among those less impressed by "Mockingjay — Part 1" is The Times' Kenneth Turan, who writes, "Though everyone tries her or his hardest to make it otherwise, this is by definition a place-holder film that exists not so much for itself but to smooth the transition from its hugely successful predecessors to a presumably glorious finale one year hence."
He adds that "director Francis Lawrence delivers on what dramatic beats half a novel affords him. You just wish there were more of them and that they provided a more complete, more satisfying story arc."
The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday similarly says, "By definition, 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' is only half a movie. … [T]his dutiful, glumly atmospheric placeholder feels like a long, extended inhale: a collective 'Here we go' before the last triumphant hurrah."
She continues: "As ever, [Jennifer] Lawrence is not only the best thing about 'Mockingjay,' but also probably the one thing that makes an otherwise dreary, derivatively dystopian franchise worth watching." In the end, the film is "a joyless, surpassingly dour enterprise, but one that fulfills its mission."
Other critics have been more receptive. The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips says, "[T]his penultimate 'Hunger Games' chapter has what all such films have, namely, a few stretch marks and an ending that goes beyond 'cliffhanger.' And it works. The film works."
Phillips adds that "Not everything in 'Mockingjay' is dynamic or remarkable," but "it's easy to appreciate how Collins' world (a bit thin on the page, but irresistible to millions) has been realized on screen."
USA Today's Claudia Puig is more effusive, writing, "This third 'Hunger' installment … is a nimbly constructed action-adventure blockbuster with a social conscience. It deepens the characters and further invests the audience in the saga of Katniss [Jennifer Lawrence] and her competing love interests, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth)."
Puig also says, "As an adaptation of part of the third book by Suzanne Collins, it's easily the most political of the three films. It also is the most absorbing and best in the series."
Meanwhile, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir writes, "'Mockingjay — Part 1' is a penultimate chapter without a real ending, but it's also a thrilling ride full of potent emotions, new characters and major twists of fate, built around another commanding star performance. Of all the big-budget popcorn movies of 2014, this one holds the screen with the least requirement for apology and speaks to the broadest possible audience."
Still, Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty says "Mockingjay — Part 1" may leave audiences, er, hungry for more — and not necessarily in a good way. He writes, "[W]hen the story finally does manage to get interesting toward the end, it just screeches to a halt and cuts off, leaving fans wriggling on the hook for a finale they won't get to see for another 12 months. That's not a cliff-hanger, that's just a tease."
Follow @ogettell for movie news