The Harry Potter and Twilight film franchises popularized the current trend of studios releasing two-part finales to their young adult book-turned movie cash cows, and the Hunger Games film property is following their lead with this month's Mockingjay - Part 1.
Early reviews for the third Hunger Games cinematic installment have begun to make their way online and, as you might anticipate, each touches on the decision to split the series finale - and whether it so far benefits and/or detract from the original story by author Suzanne Collins. Of course, this discussion of how necessary Mockingjay - Part 1 is (much like the overarching narrative) won't be complete until Mockingjay - Part 2 arrives next year.
Catching Fire helmsman Francis Lawrence drew from a screenplay by Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (The Butler) for Mockingjay - Part 1. This installment focuses on the efforts of Panem's organized rebellion to gain support for its revolution against the Capitol, while using Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as a figurehead for the underground social/political movement. Read on after the jump, to find out if critics so far feel that setup is worth devoting a whole 2-hour (or more) movie to.
Trailer & Reviews
Variety - 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.
THR - Like an overgrown and bloated trailer for a film yet to come, Francis Lawrence's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 spreads perhaps 45 minutes of dramatic material across two far-too-leisurely hours... 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.
The Wrap - “Mockingjay, Part 1” is still very much a “Hunger Games” movie, yes, but it calls to mind smart political comedies like “Wag the Dog” and “Tanner '88” as well... The title lets you know we're still one more movie away from the grand finale, but even if “Mockingjay, Part 1” leaves us wanting more, it's not just two hours of build-up. Think of it as an amuse-bouche for a final course that manages to satisfy on its own.
Badass Digest - That Part 1 is unfulfilling in total isn’t because of director Francis Lawrence or the screenwriters who adapted Suzanne Collins’ novel - it’s because of the marketing guys who made the choice to cut this movie in half. If Part 2 satisfactorily knocks down the dominoes this film has set up, in twenty years we won’t even think twice about their release pattern. We'll just be talking about how great The Hunger Games quartet was as serious social commentary science fiction.
Total Film - Even with the odds against him, returning director Francis Lawrence joins sturdy-handed writers Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (The Butler) to mount a rich, punchy, well-paced treatment of a tricky novel: an unlikely victory comparable to felling hoverplanes with arrows... But Part 1 holds up, mostly, with Jennifer Lawrence doing some proper heavy lifting.
Forbes - The third Hunger Games movie is a smaller scale, more buttoned down affair, with more introspection and less crowd-pleasing action. While it benefits from the removal of the “games” element, it still exists mostly as a setup for next year’s finale.
So far, the general attitude towards Mockingjay - Part 1 is that, as far as first acts go... it's respectable enough. Critical word of mouth at this pre-release stage (currently 86% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average 7.3/10 rating) is more positive than it was for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, and a lot more enthusiastic than in response to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, by comparison.
On the whole, though, it doesn't sound as though Mockingjay - Part 1 makes a compelling argument for continuing the practice of splitting YA series finales in half... though it's going to anyway (at least with the Divergent movie franchise). Seeing as Mockingjay - Part 1 is expected to scale similar box office heights as its predecessors (much as the penultimate Harry Potter and Twilight films did before it), that will give studios all the more incentive (make that in$entive) to keep the trend alive and well.
Many a critic and fan alike felt that Catching Fire was a significant step-up for the Hunger Games film franchise after the first installment, and it doesn't sound as though Francis Lawrence has changed either his overall directorial style or approach to world-building on Mockingjay - Part 1 much from his work on the second Hunger Games. So, keeping that in mind, the first part of Mockingjay looks to be a solid first act overall, even if it is guilty of dragging its feet too much.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 opens in theaters on November 21st, 2014.