'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1': What the Critics Are Saying

'Catching Fire' director Francis Lawrence returns with Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and introducing Julianne Moore

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 is soaring into the theaters on Thanksgiving weekend, and is already tracking to potentially top $150 million in its U.S. debut.

Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence reprises his duties for the franchise's third installment, which again stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and introduces Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer to the Suzanne Collins series.

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Read what top critics are saying about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1:

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy warns that it "spreads perhaps 45 minutes of dramatic material across two far-too-leisurely hours. ... 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. ... The central challenge faced by new-to-the-series screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong was to bring the story to the brink of the inevitable confrontation between the oppressors and the oppressed. From a dramatic point of view, this would have ideally occupied either the initial third or first half, let's say, of a 140-minute movie, which would have then continued to accelerate toward cathartic action and ultimate resolution." Still, "given more opportunity here than in the two previous films, Banks gamely pushes the role into quasi-Oscar Wildean territory."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis notes of the franchise, "Each Hunger Games movie makes so much noise — it’s where the deafening clamor of commerce meets the roar of true fan love — that it’s a wonder you can detect the human heartbeat under the tumult. But it’s there, thumping and sometimes racing in a franchise that, more than most industrial movies and even putative indies, speaks to both its audience and its time." Director Lawrence "does a serviceable job again of pulling the parts together, ... [it] is streamlined, blunt and easy," and the script "gets the job done, but the performers matter far more than the words they deliver," as the late Hoffman, "who looked so uncomfortable in Catching Fire, is here loose, funny and stingingly real." Yet because of the final book's plot and District 13's underground status, Mockingjay "doesn’t silence Katniss, but in some respects, it sidelines her. ... In chopping the last book into two movies and by embracing the blockbuster imperative — big bangs and action — the filmmakers lose sight of her."

Time's Richard Corliss notes that though there is no actual Games in this installment, it "allows for only one massing of troops, one ISIS-style public execution of hooded men and one Navy SEALs-ish guerrilla raid, in which Katniss takes no part." It "springs to life around the 80-minute mark," but "the distinguished actors, including Oscar winners Lawrence and Hoffman, often deliver their dialogue in a flat, disengaged tone, as if at a first reading. And though we still believe that Lawrence, who turned 25 in August, can do no wrong, she isn’t given much opportunity to do anything spectacularly right here. Her performance is a medley of sobs and gasps, in mournful or radiant closeup." Altogether, "If The Hunger Games series were an actual dystopian reality show now available on DVD, Mockingjay — Part 1 would be the making-of extra."

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Time Out's Cath Clarke says, "While it definitely takes its foot off the action, Mockingjay – Part 1 goes deeper and darker," as its politics "are as intensely gripping as the games in the earlier films — and more deadly. ... [It] might just have more to say about the ethical ambiguities of war than Brad Pitt’s pseudo-thinking war drama Fury." Additionally, "for a franchise with bang-on casting, the chemistry between Katniss and Peeta has always been a bit limp, so there are no complaints here about keeping them apart. Besides, Katniss has the infinitely less lame Gale to take hunting."

The Guardian's Henry Barnes deems it a "multimillion-dollar stopgap. Director Lawrence ekes a paltry story out. The special effects are limp and the script a little creaky, although somehow it still manages to thrill." Also, "Katniss is somehow less fun than the woman Tucci’s TV host labeled The Girl on Fire. Yet she must fight on against the Capitol. Panem demands it. The franchise demands it more."

Nov. 21, 7 a.m. Updated with more reviews.

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee