Well, it’s definitely the first half of a movie. And it’s a pretty uneven film. But I’d say that even though it’s not nearly as satisfying a moviegoing experience as Catching Fire, it’s better than the first half of the book it’s based on—Mockingjay is by far the weakest volume in Suzanne Collins’s young-adult trilogy—and its biggest weaknesses may simply be a symptom of the fact that it’s got to delay all its gratification for next year’s concluding installment. But its strengths make it more than worth your time. For the most part, director Francis Lawrence continues the fine work he brought to the series in Catching Fire. He’s good at putting the characters into actual space, so the audience knows where they’re standing and which way they’re facing. (It’s sad that this is an underrated talent, but here we are.) There’s not as much action in this film, but only one sequence (an extraction sequence that seems to owe its existence to Zero Dark Thirty) isn’t as tense as it should be. For every moment in which the pacing on Mockingjay feels just a bit off, there are two or three moments that work with an effortless grace, including the very enticing cliff-hanger. Director Lawrence has the opportunity here to lead actor Lawrence and the rest of the cast into a serious blowout of a final Hunger Games film. There’s plenty of evidence in the first half of Mockingjay to indicate that he might just wind up making it work (123 min.).
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