November 20, 2014 3:18 pm
Updated: November 20, 2014 3:20 pm

What the critics are saying: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

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ABOVE: Watch the trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

TORONTO — Katniss, Peeta and Gale are back on the big screen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks and Canada’s Donald Sutherland. It also showcases one of the final performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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The first two Hunger Games instalments grossed a combined $1.5 billion at the box office, so there’s no doubt Mockingjay – Part 1 will be a hit. It opens in theatres exactly one year after the release of Catching Fire — and fans will have to wait another year to see the final chapter.

Here’s a look at some of the reviews.

“How do you waste one of the most exciting young actresses of our time,” wondered Lou Lumenick of the New York Post, “not to mention the time and money of millions of moviegoers?”

Lumenick said Mockingjay – Part 1 turns Lawrence’s “groundbreaking woman warrior” into “a spectator in this insufferably dull penultimate instalment, which thinly spreads a half-hour’s worth of plot over two plodding hours.”

He admitted the “snoozy slog” will satisfy diehard fans but anyone accompanying them “should be prepared for a good nap.”

Lumenick wrote: “The camp and glam factor of the first two films has been dialed down to near-zero, and there’s the barest hint of political satire this time around. Instead, what we have is a rather grim and humourless version of the lesser action films derived from young adult novels that have flooded the marketplace.”

READ MORE: What the critics are saying about other recent movies

At the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday described Mockingjay – Part 1 as a “glumly atmospheric placeholder [that] feels like a long, extended inhale.”

She, too, opined that the flamboyance of past Hunger Games movies is lacking.

“It’s a joyless, surpassingly dour enterprise,” wrote Hornaday, who singled out Lawrence as a reason for watching.

Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald said Mockingjay – Part 1 is “dark, grim and exciting entertainment.”

Rodriguez wrote: “The film doesn’t feel padded or drawn out (it has the shortest running time of any instalment in the series, clocking in at less than two hours without end credits) … 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.”

Ty Burr -of the Boston Globe seemed to disagree, calling the movie “a cheat, a cash grab.”

He wrote: “This half-instalment dispenses with the sadistic but dramatic killing competitions that gave Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels their name and reason for being. Without that arresting gimmick, the project deflates with a hiss.”

Burr enjoyed the scenes with Moore and Hoffman but complained “they’re working below their skill set.”

Chicago Tribune reviewer Michael Phillips decided that, overall, the film works.

But, he added, “not everything in Mockingjay is dynamic or remarkable. Director Lawrence, working from Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s screenplay, occasionally mistakes somnambulance for solemnity.”

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said Mockingjay – Part 1 “comes out blazing” thanks largely to Lawrence. He also singled out the director and script writers for deliverig “the dazzle without sacrificing the smarts.”

Travers wrote: “The suspense is killer. Ditto the thrill of the hunt. The film uses the extra time to, of all things, develop characters and give this dystopian fable a human scale.”

But he warned those unfamiliar with Collins’ books that there are no Hunger Games in this movie.

This is a point also made by Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty.

“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,” he wrote.

“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.”

At the New York Daily News, Joe Neumaier noted the lack of action in Mockingjay – Part 1.

“Readers of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy know that the story is dour and despairing. Still, this adaptation fails to get a grip on the muted, murky proceedings,” he wrote.

“While it’s refreshing to not have more arena-set bloodletting … what’s replaced it is dull speechifying and people staring at giant screens, when they aren’t staring at rubble.”

Neumaier credited Lawrence for saving the movie.

“Just when the film threatens to succumb to sameness, Lawrence draws us in with the power of her personality. Always magnetic, she gives Katniss a sparky soulfulness even when Mockingjay – Part 1 feels like it’s winging it.

“Here’s hoping Part II, due next year, flies higher.”

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