The "Hunger Games" franchise remains the Rorschach test of modern political movies.
The first two films could be seen as either big government on dictatorial steroids or an Occupy-style lament about the evils of inequality.
The franchise’s third film, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One,” doesn’t change that formula despite the addition of liberal screenwriter Danny Strong.
The “Game Change” and “Recount” scribe wisely stayed the course, a move that won’t dent the film’s box office tally. That doesn’t help “Part One” from disappointing on a number of levels. While “The Empire Strikes Back” offered a cliffhanger for the ages, the second to last “Games” makes one wish they skipped Part One and went straight to the finale.
Once more Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant warrior battling President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his minions.
The stakes are higher, and more deadly, than before. Simply brandishing the revolution’s Mockingjay symbol incurs a death sentence. Snow’s goon squad will raze a hospital building if it means scoring propaganda points against it enemies.
That’s where the best, and worst, of “Mockingjay” comes in.
Katniss is a lousy salesperson for the revolution. So her allies, notably president in waiting Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her propagandist in chief Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) try to inspire her method acting.
That deposits Katniss back on the battlefield, where her on-site reports clash with those of captured love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Her on-again, off-again sweetheart is now telling the rebels to lay down their arms.
Has he turned, or is President Snow pulling his strings?
FAST FACT: The minds behind the “Hunger Games” franchise had to rework the final two film chapters following the sudden death of co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman. That included having Woody Harrelson’s character read words that were meant to be spoken by Hoffman’s Heavensbee in the final moments of the franchise.
Those who haven’t seen the first two “Hunger Games” won’t care a lick about any of this. Even casual franchise fans will be bemused at best by the love triangle, whose third half remains the impassive Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
Taylor Lautner, come back! All is forgiven.
That leaves a Part One without interpersonal heft. It’s like a happy reunion in very troubled times, what with the return of Effie (Elizabeth Banks) looking like a Dystopian Rosie the Riveter and a sober Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson).
George Lucas would snicker at the names author Suzanne Collins stamped on our popular culture.
The dueling propaganda wars intrigues at first, but like everything else here it’s treated with a superficial shrug. We know where this is all going and we’ll have to wait another year to get there.
For now, “Part One” is a two-hour infomercial for the main event.
DID YOU KNOW: Jennifer Lawrence earned near universal praise for her work in the first two “Hunger Games” films. Yet when she was originally cast for the role many fans of the source material warned she was too blonde and too young for the part.
HiT Movie Review: ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One’