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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
November 23, 2015, 8:56 pm
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Director: Francis Lawrence
2 Stars
The Hunger Games Mockingjay - Part 2Because the series began with a contest in which children were tasked with killing each other, it was clear that The Hunger Games was destined to be relentlessly bleak. Yet, dutifully suffering through these last two installments still has the unmistakable feel of attending a funeral–the color palette is blacks and grays, characters speak about their misery in hushed, whispered tones, and not a smile is to be had. For an action franchise distinguished by a badass female hero for a new generation, it is consistently surprising just how dour the whole thing is. The problem with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (both parts) isn’t that it is merely depressing, but it consists of circular conversations and characters in stasis. The action setpieces occur only to give the heroes something new to mourn over. Those expecting a rousing finale should have known better–even the revolution of this film is viewed only through the prism of loss and needless violence, with the sentiment of renewal and the validation of heroism only treated as asides. If Mockingjay, Part 2 is a minor improvement over its predecessor because it contains one effective suspense sequence (involving Alien-like creatures in a sewer system), it shares its flaws and amplifies its shame. The lackadaisical pacing of Part 1 was excused due to the promise that Part 2 would find satisfying new directions to bring the series to its epic finale. Audiences should be rioting at the money-grubbing doors of Lionsgate after the first 45 minutes of this final installment, which has simply continued the “conflicted characters speaking in bunkers” theme from the first film without any real sense of forward momentum.



The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
November 24, 2014, 1:21 am
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Director: Francis Lawrence
2 Stars
The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1The criticisms regarding Hollywood’s new penchant for dragging out franchises with two-parter finales have been exhausted by now, but even having that awareness heading into this particular cash grab doesn’t prepare one for its incompleteness. It’s hardly a movie. Here’s a film about opposing forces on the brink of war with a conflicted heroine continuing her journey to become the leader that the people of Panem need. Only, by the end credits, all that has unfolded are preliminary moves in the battle, and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is largely the same conflicted revolutionary she was in the beginning. This is two hours of treading water–the barrage of gimmicks of the titular games’ themselves have been removed from the series in favor of a rotating half-dozen depressing, darkly-lit sets. The Harry Potter series was successful in the first part of its finale in the way that it broke away from the rhythms of the previous films and instead concerned itself with evolving character relationships. Here, however, the familiar characters hardly register as such. Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who takes center stage for the first time in the series, is still the vanilla hunk that was thinly sketched in the first installment. This is insulting, lazy storytelling–no matter how many promises Part 2 delivers on, it’s hard to justify this insulting, charmless installment.



The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
November 30, 2013, 3:18 am
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Director: Francis Lawrence
3 Stars
The Hunger Games - Catching FireNow firmly established as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars (and with an Oscar under her belt to boot), Jennifer Lawrence is even better suited for her role as Katniss Everdeen, the ultra-independent heroine of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Having survived the titular games of the first movie, Katniss returns in Catching Fire as a beloved celebrity–just as she is warned that she won’t be able to maintain a private life with her newfound attention, the same might be said about Lawrence herself at this stage in her career. Lawrence, indeed, is the key element that makes this series worth watching. Her command of the screen is unmistakable, and new additions director Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems have a better understanding than their predecessors of what a close-up of her determined yet vulnerable face can accomplish. Despite the strength of her performance, however, much of Catching Fire feels like a retread of the first movie–the pacing is largely identical, only this time the intrigue of meeting a colorful new cast of characters is lost (stand-outs from the first movie, such as Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz, are underused). Most disappointing are the games themselves, which this time adapt a tropical setting with dangers such as a poisonous fog and a handful of murderous baboons. The conflicts between the participants themselves take on a secondary importance to the gimmicks, which considerably lessens the stakes of the interpersonal dynamics.