review roundup

What Is Everyone Saying About The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1?

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Almost every critic who’s seen the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 so far has bristled at the fact that the movie only tells half the story of the third and final book in Suzanne Collins’s saga. The consensus has been that this installment also offers significantly less action than its predecessors. That said, many writers still found space to compliment the film’s performances, especially the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, which the New York Times called “loose, funny and stingingly real.” Rolling Stone labeled him one of the pic’s “unalloyed joys.” Our own David Edelstein applauded the movie’s meta elements, noting, “Much of Mockingjay centers on selling. In the film, the rebels sell a revolutionary icon, Katniss in her Mockingjay wings clutching a bow and arrow. But it’s hard not to think … of how Lionsgate is madly selling our nation’s No. 1, nobody-doesn’t-love-her female movie star.” Here’s what everyone else is saying:

“Unsubtly resonant, at times quite rousing and somewhat unsatisfying by design, this penultimate series entry is a tale of mass uprising and media manipulation that itself evinces no hint of a rebellious streak or subversive spirit: Suzanne Collins’ novels may have warned against the dangers of giving the masses exactly what they want to see, but at this point, the forces behind this hugely commercial property are not about to risk doing anything but … Audiences coming to this film with no prior knowledge of the material, however, may feel their patience squeezed and their appetite for action a bit neglected; following the bright-hued battle-royale spectacle of its predecessors, Mockingjay reveals a darkening shift in mood, emphasis and color palette as it decisively exist the arena and literally burrows underground.” —Justin Chang, Variety

“Unfortunately, Mockingjay — Part 1 has all the personality of an industrial film. There’s not a drop of insolence, insubordination or insurrection running through its veins; it feels like a manufactured product through and through, ironic and sad given its revolutionary theme.” —Todd McCarthy, THR

“OK, there’s less action in Games this time, but what’s there is prime. And the acting is aces. Cheers to Elizabeth Banks for adding humor and heart to Effie Trinket, the fashionista chaperone now bereft of the wigs, makeup and accessories that make life bearable. The Hunger Games has always attracted A-team actors. [Julianne] Moore is superb at suggesting the secrets buried in Coin as she plans a revolution beyond the reach of Katniss. And Hoffman, in a final performance to be completed in Mockingjay — Part 2, due next November, goes beyond the call of franchise duty to find the bruised soul in a master manipulator.” —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“One of the pleasures of big-ticket blockbusters is that the smart ones (Harry Potter, most obviously) often come stuffed with the best acting talent money can buy. The script for Mockingjay Part 1, credited to Peter Craig and Danny Strong, gets the job done, but the performers matter far more than the words they deliver. When Ms. Moore sits around a table with Jeffrey Wright (as Beetee, a tech whiz) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch, a strategist), you’re both watching a scene and seeing how great actors can give emotional and psychological specificity to blather about the art of war and the fate of a people.” —Manohla Dargis, New York Times

“It’s a cheat, a cash grab, and it makes for 125 dystopian minutes of set-up with no resolution. But come back next November, folks, and we’ll show you the rest! They should have called it Mockingjay, Part 1 — The Shakedown. Or The Hunger Games 3: Rubble Without a Cause.” —Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Mockingjay was easily the weakest book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, so it’s not really fair to blame the actors and filmmakers for all its shortcomings. If nothing else, they’ve made most of the characters more likeable. But they’re the ones responsible for splitting an already slow book into two films (Part 2 premieres next year), and there’s no conceivable reason to do so besides inflating box-office revenue. This is especially true when its basic structure stops the cast and crew from playing to their strengths … The most positive interpretation of Mockingjay is that it’s a daring postmodern step past simple satire of the reality TV-loving masses.” —Adi Robertson, The Verge

“There’s been considerable controversy about the decision to split Mockingjay, the third book of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, into two separate productions. But this latest film, which Francis Lawrence directed from a screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, proves to be much more than scene-setting. It’s about the power of political symbols, and the danger of becoming one — about Katniss staying true to herself, and to those she loves, while her handlers seek to reshape her into some sort of sci-fi Joan of Arc.” —Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

“It’s easily the most political of the three films. It also is the most absorbing and best in the series. Last year’s Catching Fire felt like more of the same from 2012’s original Hunger Games, presenting more contests to the death among young ‘tributes’ for the amusement of the powers that be. But this sequel burrows deeper into the concept of revolution.” —Claudia Puig, USA Today

“Because this is the first Hunger Games movie without any actual game action in it, Mockingjay is often slow going, with not enough strong emotional moments (the one exception is Katniss visiting a rebel hospital) to compensate. Plus, having the film end at a particularly dramatic en media res moment only underscores how frustrating it is to have to wait a whole year for the conclusion. If it’s going to be true, as someone predicts to Katniss, that everyone in Panem is ‘going to want to kiss you, kill you or be you,’ it hardly seems fair to have to wait so long for all of the above to happen.” —Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Mockingjay gains steam as it goes. Its retro-futuristic aesthetic lacks the flamboyance of past installments, but possesses its own grim integrity, and even contains one authentically shocking reversal that bears more than a whiff of a Manchurian Candidate-like menace. It’s a joyless, surpassingly dour enterprise, but one that fulfills its mission with Katniss’s own eagle-eyed efficiency and unsentimental somberness. Mockingjay sets up the end Game with a grim sense of purpose.” —Ann Hornaday, the Washington Post

“If all you require out of a Hunger Games movie is Jennifer Lawrence acting her guts out and firing a bow and arrow at least once (but maybe not twice), Mockingjay — Part 1 will satisfy you — but just barely.” —Matt Singer, ScreenCrush

“By not telling a full story and busying Katniss and her friends with a complete narrative, the spotlight falls on them much more harshly than ever before. But by making an installment that’s almost entirely devoid of action (the climactic set-piece barely registers as a blip) in order to focus on the more sophisticated concepts at the heart of the series, Mockingjay inadvertently underlines why this epic saga is just for kids.” —David Ehrlich, Complex

Mockingjay, like its predecessors, wants to offer some social commentary. But where the first two movies focused on attacking economic inequality and reality television, now we’re on to media manipulation and the commodification of heroes.” —Tim Grierson, Deadspin

“As much as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is about anything, it is about Jennifer Lawrence … [I]t’s about her fame, the pressure that she’s under to make this franchise work because of what it means to Lionsgate, and the way she continually manages to deliver moments that feel authentic, whether they are or not, even under the unforgiving microscope of fame.” —Drew McWeeny, HitFix

The Hunger Games is declining in power, but not as steeply as I thought, and this weird, operatic nightmare still inhabits the screen with confidence.” —Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“While the series’ first two films captured the grandeur of the outdoors during the kill-or-be-killed competitions, Mockingjay is mostly bound to the bleak and claustrophobic bowels of a bunker. It suffocates the film. And when 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.” —Chris Nashawaty, EW

“At its core, the premise of The Hunger Games remains a bit silly (dystopian societies always seem to have overly elaborate schemes to keep the populace in check), and in the previous entries where moments of lightheartedness kept the tone at a balance, here that touch is missing.” —Kevin Jagernauth, Indiewire

What Critics Say About Mockingjay — Part 1