By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
Following the recent trend of milking maximum moolah from audiences by splitting book adaptations into two (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”) or even three (“The Hobbit”) movies, Lionsgate is dishing out the final course of its fight-the-power fantasy franchise as this month’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” and next year’s part 2.
The good news is that the studio’s relatively speedy one-per-year servings makes the gaps between them easier to bear than the eons that seem to pass between James Bond flicks, not to mention the endless wait for future outings of “The Avengers” and “Avatar.” The bad news is that while this first half of “Mockingjay” may work better as part of a four-film marathon after the series is complete, it’s miserably dark on its own, with its weepy heroine acting either hopelessly haunted or hyper hysterical for nearly the entire movie. That means there’s not much to really savor in this grim meal, and you can forget about dessert.
Extracted from the high-tech battle dome she destroyed with a single arrow in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens in the care of District 13 rebels who are underground in both senses of the term. They want her to be a living symbol of defiance who can unite all of the oppressed districts to rise up and overthrow The Capitol’s relentlessly ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss agrees to take on the role only if rescuing her is-he-or-isn’t-he boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) from Snow’s evil clutches is part of the deal. Shell-shocked Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), another survivor of the previous movie’s game, is more bitterly resigned to the fate of their left-behind former allies. “I wish they were all dead,” he notes, “and we were, too.”