"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I" is in theaters this weekend, and while the majority of reviews agree the latest installment of the best-selling young adult series is the darkest film yet, critics have one other consensus on the film: "Mockingjay" is basically a two-hour trailer for "The Hunger Games" finale due in theaters next fall.
It's the latest franchise after the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" series to stretch its final film across two movies.
Nearly every review points this out, with some accusing film distributor Lionsgate of making a break for a fast cash grab. For reference, the first two "Hunger Games" movies have made over $1.5 billion worldwide combined.
"This is the future of big-budget filmmaking, a Hollywood hustle to turn profitable source material into multi-movie investments. It’s good for business but bad for drama, and the inelegantly titled Mockingjay—Part 1 suffers from an unavoidable sense of anticlimax. It doesn’t build to an ending so much as just eventually grind to a halt, like a video game demanding more quarters to continue playing."
"In its best moments, the movie has a tense, night before the battle feel. Only the battle is still a year away. … It does not seem to be the type of movie that fans will revisit on its own. This half is part of a whole in the most cynical way."
“It’s a pretty cynical business plan, and it's led to a film that feels needlessly padded. Mockingjay—Part 1 is like a term paper with the margins enlarged and the font size jacked up to reach the assigned number of pages.
… when the story finally does manage to get interesting toward the end, it just screeches to a halt and cuts off, leaving fans wriggling on the hook for a finale they won't get to see for another 12 months. That's not a cliff-hanger, that's just a tease.”
“The film ends at the apex of anguish: Thanks, Lionsgate, for cleaving Suzanne Collins’s third book in twain to maximize your already staggering profits.”
"In the greed-is-good tradition of the Harry Potter and Twilight movie franchises, the overseers of The Hunger Games have split the last book into two films. You may recall that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was the only lame episode in the entire canon and that Mary Pols titled her TIME review of the penultimate Twilight film “Breaking Yawn Part 1.” Expectations for the artistic and entertainment possibilities of this half-Mockingjay should be at least as low, though it’s likely to be the top-grossing movie of 2014."
"Like an overgrown and bloated trailer for a film yet to come, Francis Lawrence's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 spreads perhaps 45 minutes of dramatic material across two far-too-leisurely hours. … But far more than with Harry Potter and about the same as with Twilight, this doubling-the-profit gambit feels like a gaming-the-public ploy."
"'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' … thinly spreads a half-hour’s worth of plot over two plodding hours. Like the next-to-last episodes of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, this snoozy slog arbitrarily cuts the third book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy in half for no good reason other than cleaning up at the box office one more time."
These critiques don't mean the film isn't any good.
The acting chops of Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last starring role, Donald Sutherland, and supporting performances of Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, are the saving grace of the sometimes slow third installment.
Still, the film currently has worse reviews than the previous two "Hunger Games" installments. The first and second films sit at 84% and 89%, respectively, on critique aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Reviews for "Mockingjay" are more polarizing with 69% positive.