If you haven’t yet read our UK staffers’ reviews of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, go and read them now! Great, positive, honest reviews and we promise there are no spoilers, so you don’t need to be afraid to click on those links. Go here to read Ciara’s review, and here to read Luan’s. And be sure to comment and tell us what you think!
The Los Angeles premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 has come and gone, and we’re only a few short days away from general opening day, but the start of the week has not been a great one as far as the critics are concerned. We’ve gone down 5 whole points since our last Review Watch, with 37 reviews counted (30 fresh and 7 rotten), and 6 out of those being from Top Critics (4 fresh and 2 rotten); although the average rating seems to be remaining fairly stable at 7.2, we’ve had almost as many “rotten” reviews in these past two days than we had in the whole previous week.
As a reminder, assuming this trend keeps up and the film ends up with an 81% tomatometer score and 7.2 rating by the end of its run, that would make it the lowest score/rating combination of the Hunger Games trilogy so far (The Hunger Games finished its run with an 84% fresh score and a 7.2 rating, while Catching Fire held an 89% fresh score and 7.5 rating). Of course, the situation is far from dire: 81% is still a good tomatometer score, and the movie is mathematically guaranteed to be Certified Fresh when it hits 40 reviews, hopefully within the next couple of days.
With advance screenings happening all over the US tonight and midnight/preview screenings being held in Australia and parts of Europe starting tomorrow, it’s likely we’ll see plenty more reviews pop up even before the movie opens to the general public. In the mean time, here’s what has been published since yesterday. Reviews with spoilers are marked; please read at your own risk.
- ComingSoon.net (6/10, mild spoilers): Calls it a “transitional film” with a lot of Katniss “moping” about Peeta and exposition about the revolution. Points out the film feels different than the previous ones, which is both good and bad. Criticizes Jennifer Lawrence’s acting in a few parts. Praises Hoffman’s performance and the scenes between Plutarch, Coin and Katniss. Comments positively on Banks and Harrelson’s levity, and Claflin’s new take on Finnick, though there’s very little of either. States that Dormer, Ali and the rest of their team aren’t as interesting as the newcomers were in the previous film. Is disappointed with Hemsworth’s performance as “Gayle,” and finds hard to understand Katniss’ feelings for Peeta because of lack of background. Bemoans the excess of big speeches and overly-sentimental moments at the expense of excitement, action and tension. Mentions one attempt at suspense that ends up feeling like “an extended Call of Duty cut sequence.” In general blames the writing. “A disappointing follow-up to Catching Fire.”
- Vulture (No score, SPOILERS!): Points out in a surprised manner the bleakness of the film (“Stuff this bleak used to be in German or Japanese”), Katniss’ anger and the ending, at the same time praising the meta side of the film, which “centers on selling” (both Katniss as a Mockingjay and Jennifer Lawrence as the world’s most beloved actress). Praises Lawrence’s performance that “never goes even a shade overboard.” Criticizes Hemsworth’s performance, as well as Hutcherson’s “lack of urgency” (while commenting the latter is at least self-contained and doesn’t take away from Lawrence’s scenes). Praises the funny moments brought in by Banks, Sutherland’s “demonic smile” and Hoffman’s layered performance as Plutarch.
- The List (4/5): Assesses the split of Mockingjay into two movies as merited, as it adds balance and rhythm. Calls Sutherland “deliciously vile” and comments positively on Hutcherson having “something more interesting to play with” as Peeta, but finds Hemsworth’s Gale is “still short-changed.” Comments that director Francis Lawrence is more assured than in the previous film: “He confidently balances the action and politics, while maintaining a muted tone that ranges from the humour to the costumes.” Calls Jennifer Lawrence the star, while praising the performance of the older cast (Banks, Harrelson, Tucci).
- Film Journal International (No score, SPOILERS!): Confident the movie will attract the young adult audience, but doubtful about getting adults’ attention via word-of-mouth. Comments positively on the “campy levity” brought in by Banks and Harrelson. Points out that Katniss’ Mockingjay suit “also looks quite suitable for scuba diving.” Praises the action scenes, calling them “well-produced.” Points out that the ending, while bland, introduces intriguing possibilities. States that adults might appreciate “its teutonic World War II vibes,” including the war-torn set design, propaganda, President Snow’s totalitarianism, and a “sinister and cynical tone” that makes it more than a movie for kids.
- Us Weekly (2.5/4, SPOILERS!): Criticizes the split into two movies as “greedy,” leading to a “long-winded filler with only pockets of tense action,” a “two-hour-long staging area” that is forgettable to the point of making the audience long for the titular Games. Calls Moore’s first impression “sturdy,” while Harrelson gets “a glorified cameo,” and Hemsworth’s Gale brings nothing to the table but glowering. The District 8 sequence is “harrowing” but the District 12 visit is “far less effective.” Bemoans the “frustratingly low” stakes that make the film lack tension. Points out the action parts as a “refreshing break,” as is the Hanging Tree scene, although that statement comes with a joke (“Coming soon: Mockingjay, the musical!”). It does, however, praise the last 10 minutes of the movie as “heart-stopping.”
- Metro (3/5, SPOILERS!): Points out the movie is completely different from its predecessors, calling it “a new kind of blockbuster”: calm, collected and shockingly intelligent in a section of a franchise that would normally be “sleepy.” Praises the split for “retaining much-needed nuance” and states the franchise has gone from Battle Royale to Steven Soderbergh’s Che, “complex and ambivalent” like few other revolution films. Calls Sutherland’s Snow “a more austere gangster” while Moore’s Coin is “faintly sinister.” Comments positively on the blurring of the line “between good and evil — or simply extremes,” while commenting on how surreal it is that these nuances are found in a box-office topping blockbuster. Points out the film still feels incomplete, and it’s a bit too serious with the lack of Capitol colors and Hemsworth’s “unfailingly boring” Gale, although states that Banks’ Effie brings in some fun. “It might be the first popcorn movie that has much more in common with radical political cinema than the popcorn movie.”
- Nuke The Fridge (“Wait for Cable,” SPOILERS!): Complains that the lack of Hunger Games makes Mockingjay “the Matrix Revolutions of the Hunger Games franchise,” a dystopian rebellion movie that “is not as good as the classics.” States that they understand the idea of Katniss being a propaganda symbol, but don’t see much of an actual effect. Bemoans the loss of subtlety and the references that get no apparent payoff. Calls Peeta’s change through the story unconvincing and predictable, and the action “feels very small.” Does not appreciate the shakycam or the “speechifying” used as padding, and blasts Katniss’ “I never wanted to be in the Games” line because she volunteered for it.
- We Got This Covered (7/10, SPOILERS!): Comments positively on the film as being “smarter,” back to focusing on Lawrence’s Katniss as a “character study first and dystopian fiction second.” Mentions Sutherland’s Snow is “in full nefarious mastermind mode and loving it,” and that the theme of filmmaking as propaganda is “terrific.” Praises the filtering of the grimness and the greater battle through Katniss, as it makes things relatable, but also brings a heaviness to the dialogue with lines that are “like a verbal wink to the audience.” Calls the “engineered” action moments “frustrating,” and the climax “a dull, protracted affair that sidelines the film’s star” and makes the movie feels like half a story. States the film is very gray and claustrophobic, but a good take on such a grim setting. Points out some of the dialogue is weak and the plotting questionable, but the good performances (Hoffman, Wright, Banks, Harrelson) make up for it. Concludes that the film doesn’t push the narrative much farther than Catching Fire did, but it satisfactorily sets the stage for the sequel.
- HitFix (A-): Calls the film “a good yarn, told with a great deal of energy” even though it’s a familiar story. Comments positively on Francis Lawrence’s “more aggressive visual storytelling style.” Applauds the fact that Mockingjay takes us out of the literal Hunger Games into a different playing board with different stakes, with a deep theme of propaganda that is rare in films aimed at young audiences. Calls the script a “fairly straightforward adaptation” and the pace “fairly aggressive.” Praises Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as “grounded and real.” States Harrelson is “great, if underused” while Hemsworth’s Gale “finally begins to emerge as a character.” Other performances stated as good are Claflin’s, Dormer’s and Hoffman’s, the latter “underplaying what could have been big and arch and obvious.” Calls the ending “a good emotional cliffhanger.” Sees a lot of potential for the franchise to finish in the best way: “with the Hunger Games films, there is something alive and vital about them.”
What’s your opinion about these comments? Are the negative reviews making you worry? Are you keeping track of the reviews as they come out, or are you holding out to watch the movie first? What do you think the tomatometer is going to look like by the end of the movie’s run? Sound off in the comments, and don’t forget to stay tuned for more Review Watch as the days go by.