For audiences who just can’t get enough of gloom porn, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 should fill the bill … until, of course, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 unleashes the really hard stuff next year. Grim dystopia reigns as we rejoin beloved, beleaguered heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) righteously pissed off to find her plate still overflowing with crap dished out by the events in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Her downtrodden District 13 is pretty much toast and its population decimated, thanks to the dark deeds of sneer-worthy president (Donald Sutherland).
Meanwile, Katniss’ moony b.f. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is stuck in the fascist capital city, pretty much abandoned by his fellow rebels and Katniss is being manipulated by the rebel president, played with a shock of white hair and a Cruella de Vil ‘tude by Julianne Moore. No wonder the no-b.s. heroine (played with soulful spunk by Lawrence) is a big burning heap of resentment and grief, especially since she’s also getting sold and packaged as the poster child for a series of propagandistic videos and interviews (with toothy Stanley Tucci) to incite an uprising by the people of Panem. Propaganda is power as both Sutherland and Moore’s characters fight for hearts and minds via the corrupt privately-owned media.
Long on agitprop and media satire but cripplingly short on action, Mockingjay is a place-holding movie and, by definition, a cash grab. Happily, it’s at least got Lawrence in fine, rebellious, anti-authoritarian form but, more sadly, it also has a slyly witty, impressive Philip Seymour Hoffman as the former game maker-turned-political operative Plutarch Heavensbee. The late actor is as irreplaceable as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is just a long, slow teaser for next year’s grand finale, Mockingjay — Part 2. ** ½