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Cinema Signal: Slowing down the violence while Katniss assumes a new role. Give it a go! MOBILE version |
. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1"

This sequel, which begins after Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"), in a dangerous fit of protest, has destroyed the mechanism that controls the "games" as they have played out in Panem for years. But, the drill here is to break the final resolution of the sci-fi adventure story into two parts, a decision that might rest on the time-tested theory that money's to be raked in by simply extending the chance to enjoy the characters who had us from the first arrow. And, having been well entertained, I have no argument with that.

On the other side of the scale, a strong reaction amidst critics takes this cinematic rendition of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" trilogy to task for... what? a tamping down of the tension level? of the passion meter? of the surprise elements? Guilty on all counts.

So, let me tell you what I liked about it.

Every rebellion needs a leader and this interlude with relatively little violent action but a building toward climax makes the case for tending to business. Despite the inspiration that Katniss provided the unhappy masses of Panem by challenging their despotic ruler, President Snow (Donald Sutherland, "Pride and Prejudice"), an out and out rebellion is smoldering. Is fanatical president Snow as clever as he thinks?

His epic wrath is evident everywhere in District 12 which has become a graveyard of destruction. It's forced a wounded Katniss to take refuge in a bunker of District 13 and, for the moment, healing her wounds. Her calm causes District 13's demanding president Coin (Jullianne Moore) to have doubts about her as the symbolic icon of the uprising... until Katniss shows the rage she harbors for their enemy. "The face of the rebellion," as former Gatekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Ides of March") puts it. Just what a rebellion needs. The Mockingjay is poised to take flight.

With Effie Trinket's (gorgeous Elizabeth Banks, "W") genius for costumery and mentor Haymitch Abernathy's (Woody Harrelson, "Out of the Furnace") support; with former Gatekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee and best friend and protector Gale Hawthorne's (Liam Hemsworth, "Paranoia") sturdy backing, Katniss, ever an independent thinker, agrees to act out before a film crew as she finds her "voice."

Which is the emotional level the people need and respond to. This comes to her upon watching the state TV appearance of Peeta Mellark, (Josh Hurcherson) her love and fellow victor of the games, whom she feared dead. But, he's not the figure of defiance she knew. He's become President Snow's mouthpiece.

Don't think for a second that director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig didn't know what they were doing with what some have diminished as a "placeholder" in the series. But, they've used it as a storytelling opportunity.

"Mockingjay, Part 1" is divided into episodes, each of which makes a point, deepens our understanding of a character or relationship, increases our emotional engagement and propels us toward the grand finale awaiting in the final sequel.

The first episode has Katniss assuming her role as Mockingjay; following that is the one in which she visits a hospital filled with the wounded and sets forth her leadership, receiving the three-finger salute as a sign of solidarity; another episode is a rhapsodic moment when the team is visited by the movie's symbol: an actual (well, digital) mockingjay... in which Katniss picks up the rhythm of the bird's song and develops it into an anthem, which she sings.

It's a song of protest; it asks if you're coming to the hanging -- a drumbeat to announce Snow's subjects' gathering together to take on his power and vicious malevolence. The song is "The Hanging Tree," from Collin's book. The tempo is that of a marching tune. It's heard twice in the film.

The actors are uniformly excellent, though it could be said that they can do these roles in their sleep by now. As the tension builds around Peeta's apparent betrayal, we get a further look into Hawthorn's obvious admiration for Katniss as he plays second fiddle to her emothional choice. Another interesting motif: dedication in the maelstrom: an involved, vigilant protector. A rather quiet, heroic figure.

The technical branches, likewise, are uniformly at their masterful best.

This sequel-split has at least one more important virtue; clarity -- a quality that ofttimes gets compromised in high-power sci-fi extravaganzas. All together, there's enough smart writing and entertainment going on at this point in the story to whet my appetite for the smash ending -- as it was designed to do. You can feel the tide rising.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The image of the uprising. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

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