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The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part One Poster

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone

MPAA-Rating: PG-13

Release Date: November 20th, 2014

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is back in The Hunger Games Mockingjay- Part 1, hospital the third film in the Hunger Games series. After the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire, approved this latest chapter focuses on the revolution building against the omniscient Capitol.

Katniss, who was forced to contend in both the Hunger Games and the Quarter Quell (the games depicted in Catching Fire), has now been given a choice. Does she want to serve as the face and voice of the rebellion or would she prefer to stand in the background and watch as the Districts revolt against the Capitol and the diabolical President Snow (played again by scene-stealer Donald Sutherland)?

Mockingjay was the third volume in the Hunger Games literary trilogy but it’s been turned into two films on the big screen— the second of which will arrive in theaters late in 2015. Because of that, the story here is slower and less action-packed than its predecessors, which works to its benefit. While the second film often felt like a rehash of the original, this one puts the main characters in a different environment and sheds a needed light on some of the supporting characters.

For one, Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) — Katniss’ innocent younger sister, whose character was integral to Katniss’ entry in the games— is given much more to do. She’s both a friend and an adviser to Katniss and one can see their affection for each other in every scene they share. It’s easy to see why Katniss was so eager to volunteer for the games in her sister’s place. Finnick (Sam Chaflin)— who completed in the Quarter Quell— also gets an opportunity to build his character here. At times in the second film, he was depicted as a one-dimensional pretty boy. Here, we see Finnick at his most vulnerable as he reveals the depth of the pain that the Capitol has afflicted on him since he was sent to compete in his own games.

There are only a few action scenes in this drama but the first two films were often too graphic in their depiction of children being killed (something that often grew tiresome) so this film feels like a nice departure. The focus here is on the political realities that the rebels are faced with and the length that Snow is willing to go to maintain power. Not only is he willing to let children fight each other but he’s also a driven political manipulator, who knows how to use both physical strength and psychological warfare to beat his opponents.

One of the benefits of this film is that it also steers away from the love triangle of Katniss, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth).  There are a few scenes where she discovers her true affection for Peeta but the duo only appear in one scene together, proving that distance can, in fact, make the heart grow fonder (both for Katniss and for the audience itself). There’s also a melodramatic scene where  Gale can’t help but feel sorry for himself  and notes that Katniss only kisses him when he’s in pain. “That’s the only way I can get your attention,” he says in the film’s most eye-rolling scene.

Fortunately, that romance is downplayed here in lieu of the film’s focus on the political battle between Snow and President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of District 13. Their political machinations are on full display, making Mockingjay-Part I a more politically-driven film than its predecessors. The first Hunger Games feature (and book, for that matter) showed the story at its best but Mockingjay-Part I is still a worthy entry in this franchise because it slows the story down and shows what’s really at stake in the rebellion.

Review by: John Hanlon