Credit: Murray Close

The biggest clash at the movies in this year might not be Katniss against the Capitol, but Katniss against Guardians of the Galaxy. In 2013, Catching Fire was the year’s top grossing movie, and now, with Mockingjay—Part 1, Jennifer Lawrence has a chance to make it two years in a row. Industry analysts are expecting the biggest opening weekend of the year, one that could approach $150 million (though Thursday-night business was soft).

The sequel—the first of two films based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling finale, Mockingjay—picks up right after where Catching Fire concluded. In the end of the previous installment, Katniss’ family and Gale escape, but District 12 is annihilated after she sparks an uprising during the Quarter Quell. In Mockingjay, however, instead of channeling the rage that’s promised, Katniss is suffering from PTSD and reluctant to engage with the spartan society living underground in District 13, which wants her to become the symbol of the fight against President Snow and the Capitol. Julianne Moore joins the franchise as Alma Coin, 13’s steely leader, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright return as part of her braintrust.

But while Katniss has been rescued from the Hunger Games arena, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by the Capitol and is being manipulated as the government’s puppet. “In a series of interviews with the sensationalist journalist Caesar (Stanley Tucci), he denounces Katniss and urges a cease-fire,” writes EW‘s Chris Nashawaty. “The betrayal devastates her, forcing her to realize that her feelings for him weren’t a charade after all. With its Wag the Dog subplot and fist-in-the-air proletarianism, Mockingjay may be the most harmlessly Marxist movie to come out of Hollywood since Reds.”

Mockingjay is hardly a poli-sci assignment, but the action and adventure of the first two films, which showcased the spectacle of the Hunger Games, share the stage with more complex themes of the ramifications of what revolution really means. Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“The biggest problem with the new Hunger Games movie is right there in the title: Part 1. Mockingjay, the final installment in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling YA trilogy, wasn’t conceived in two parts. … it’s a pretty cynical business plan, and it’s led to a film that feels needlessly padded. Mockingjay—Part 1 is like a term paper with the margins enlarged and the font size jacked up to reach the assigned number of pages.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

“Sticking closely to the plotting of novelist Suzanne Collins (who gets an adaptation credit here), 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.”

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

“Unlike The Hobbit trilogy, the film doesn’t feel padded or drawn out … What began as a clever but superficial piece of dystopian sci-fi has developed into an engrossing and grave saga that no longer feels like it was written primarily for teenagers.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)

“As was the case with the Twilight franchise, the reasons for the split of the adaptation of the last book seem more financial than creative. Even with so many colorful characters returning—and so many of them dealing with huge changes in their respective worlds—things become repetitive.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ▼

“This may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true: A large part of Mockingjay consists of watching Katniss make propaganda films. Then we see the final cut. And then we watch as the rebel’s computer whiz (Jeffrey Wright, also slumming) tries to hack the films onto Capitol TV screens.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today) ▲

“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 … But this sequel burrows deeper into the concept of revolution.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

Mockingjay—Part 1 does get a mid-film lift when Katniss and Gale go up against Snow’s air force with a few bows and arrows; the scene is ridiculous, and it works. But the rest is a muddy, underlit slog, a movie that searches in vain for its own pulse.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times)

Mockingjay—Part 1 doesn’t silence Katniss, but in some respects, it sidelines her. She still has plenty to say and do, though not enough, partly because, in chopping the last book into two movies (Part 2 lands next year) and by embracing the blockbuster imperative—big bangs and action—the filmmakers lose sight of her.”

Dana Stevens (Slate)

Mockingjay Part 1 might be charitably termed ‘workmanlike,’ but that adjective has an honor to it when applied to a performer like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who turns the less-than-developed role of Heavensbee into a real character, a wily operative with a grudging respect for his stubborn, unmanageable charge.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“Hoffman’s Plutarch keeps his cards close to the vest. He muses, he inveigles, he tries to balance opportunism and decency. Hoffman underplays peerlessly, layers of irony under layers of sincerity under layers of… something unfathomable. The sting of his loss will never fade.”

Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe and Mail)

“Whatever else you may fault about Hunger Games movies, they don’t stint on acting talent. The effect of so many Oscar-calibre actors speaking the generic dialogue is like watching pro ballplayers play T-ball.”

Mockingjay—Part 1

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 63

Rotten Tomatoes: 68 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 125 minutes

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Distributor: Lionsgate

The Hunger Games
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