“Mockingjay — Part 1” doesn’t waste any time. There is no introduction, no explanation, no “previously on ‘The Hunger Games.’”
If you haven’t read Suzanne Collins’ books or seen the other two films in the series, tough luck.
Not that anyone is likely to jump in at this point. The makers of “Mockingjay” know they’re playing to the fans now, and their priority is to keep moving toward next year’s epic finale. It’s an exciting, well-paced entry in the series, even if it could never stand on its own.
As the film opens, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is safely hidden away in the massive underground complex beneath District 13. She’s also a shaking, traumatized mess, still reeling from her narrow escape at the end of “Catching Fire” and the apparent loss of her friend (and maybe more), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
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The last thing she wants is to be the spokeswoman for the growing rebellion against the Capitol, but that’s exactly what she needs to be.
The revolution’s leaders, led by the no-nonsense Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), are slow to realize that Katniss can’t be stage-managed. As she sees the carnage caused by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, coolly terrifying as always), Katniss rediscovers the unfiltered passion and decency that put her on this path in the first place.
Director Francis Lawrence returns in workmanlike fashion, hitting the necessary plot points with efficiency and no particular style. He does understand that splitting “Mockingjay” into two movies gives him room to breathe, and he allows the characters to develop and scenes to play out without needing to cut away to an explosion every 30 seconds.
The one-book/two-movie trend (three in the case of December’s “The Hobbit”) may be a money-grabbing studio ploy, but it offers filmmakers a flexibility that doesn’t exist when they’re just rushing to wrap things up.
The greatest strength of “The Hunger Games” adaptations has always been the cast, with Lawrence embodying Katniss’ contradictions as only an Oscar-winning 24-year-old can. She even sells her director’s favorite trope of having Katniss emerge, shocked and horrified, into yet another scene of devastation. That would get old a lot more quickly if a lesser actress were involved.
Lawrence spends much of “Mockingjay — Part 1” going toe-to-toe with the likes of Moore; Woody Harrelson, who plays Katniss’ struggling-to-sober-up mentor; Elizabeth Banks as lovably annoying Effie Trinket; and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch the strategist. Their skills make Panem and its improbable citizens seem believable. Such talents in “popcorn” movies add immeasurably to the entertainment value.
Not that any part of “The Hunger Games” is a lighthearted romp. These stories are about oppression and violence, with (often very young) characters literally fighting for their lives. It’s telling that “Mockingjay — Part 1” ends as it begins, on a devastating emotional scene instead of a fiery battle.
Even if you think Panem is the name of a sandwich shop, you can see the hell of war on the faces of these soldiers. And there’s plenty more to come.
‘THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY — PART 1’
Rated PG-13 | Time: 2:03
WELCOME TO DISTRICT 13
Little did we know that deep underground in the far reaches of Panem, a secret rebellion was brewing in District 13, an area presumed destroyed years ago. In this old graphite mine, containing nuclear facilities, survivors created a military society, awaiting their chance to rise up against the Capitol.
A few fun facts on how District 13 came to life in the movie:
▪ Filmmakers used old factories and intricate soundstages. “Our inspiration for the design came from 1960s and 1970s nuclear facilities,” production designer Phil Messina said in a studio statement.
▪ Julianne Moore joined the cast as Alma Coin, District 13’s steely leader. More magazine (no relation) says Moore tore through her son’s copy of “The Hunger Games” a few years ago. When she heard that the part of Coin was up for grabs, she went after the role without waiting to be asked.
▪ Effie Trinket, the prissy Capitol fussbudget, barely appears in Suzanne Collins’ “Mockingjay” book, but here she is, helping the cause in District 13. Says director Francis Lawrence: “When Suzanne saw ‘Catching Fire’ she called and said, ‘There’s no way Effie Trinket cannot be in the “Mockingjay” films.’”
Elizabeth Banks, who portrays Effie, says she loved putting her pampered fashionista in utilitarian clothes: “We called her outfits the Project Runway of District 13, taking the standard-issue stuff people wear and turning it inside out,” Banks said in a studio statement. “You get a sweater, some tights and a shirt. And it was like, OK, well, the shirt’s now going to be a dress and the tights are going to be sleeves and the sweater’s going to go on my head.”
| Sharon Hoffmann, firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Gamemaker-turned- rebel Plutarch Heavensbee, died of a drug overdose in February, just before filming was completed on “Mockingjay” Parts 1 and 2.
Hoffman had two “substantial” scenes left to shoot, one for each film, director Francis Lawrence told the Los Angeles Times, so the scripts were revised. “We gave the scenes to other people,” he said. “What we didn’t want to do was try to do any kind of digital trickery, not have a digital Phil speak and trying to patch together his voice somehow or anything like that.”
“Mockingjay — Part 1” is dedicated in his memory.
| Sharon Hoffmann, The Star
JENNIFER LAWRENCE IS KEEPING BUSY
In addition to “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” arriving Nov. 20, 2015, look for Jennifer Lawrence in plenty more movies:
▪ “Serena,” March 27: Lawrence reunites with “Silver Linings Playbook” co-star Bradley Cooper for this Depression-era story about a newlywed couple and their timber empire. Susan Bier directs.
▪ “Joy,” Dec. 25, 2015: “SLP” director David O. Russell helms this biopic about a struggling Long Island single mom who became rich with her invention of the Miracle Mop.
▪ “The Rules of Inheritance”: In this adaptation of Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir, a woman loses both her parents to cancer. Bier directs this one, too.
▪ “East of Eden”: Gary Ross, who directed the original “Hunger Games,” adapts the John Steinbeck classic.
▪ “X-Men Apocalypse,” 2016: Lawrence returns as the blue, shape-shifting Mystique.
▪ “The Glass Castle”: Lawrence will produce and star in this adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family.