The reviews are in: Is Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 any good?

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Nov 18, 2014

Regardless of whether it’s good or not, the latest installment in the Hunger Games franchise is going to make a boatload of cash at the box office this weekend. But should you see it?

Ahead of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’s opening on Friday, we’ve pulled together a smattering of reviews from the latest installment in the Jennifer Lawrence-led series. The franchise’s profile (and box-office haul) has only grown stronger with each installment, and it looks like they’ve introduced another worthy chapter this time around.

The film is “Certified Fresh” and currently sits at a very solid 82 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the positive buzz, that doesn’t mean everyone liked it. The general consensus: It's a compelling spin of the wheels to make way for the finale in 2015. We’ve pulled together some highlights from some of the best reviewers in the business below so you won’t go in blind:

A part with this much sobbing, hand-wringing, and mournful gazing into the middle distance could be, in the wrong hands, a laugh riot, but Lawrence’s instincts are so smart that she never goes even a shade overboard. She’s a hell of an actress. Her adorable clumsiness in life suggests a reason she’s convincing onscreen: Spontaneity is all. She sings here, in a lovely, cracked voice with a touch of bluesiness, sounding as unaffected as when she speaks. If only the Hunger Games movies could tap her comic gifts, too. And if only her male-heartthrob co-stars gave more back. Liam Hemsworth has a big monologue in which he recounts the bombing of his district, but all I could think was how slow he was saying his lines, as if waiting for a flood of emotion that doesn’t come. At least Josh Hutcherson’s captured Peeta is mostly seen in interviews with Stanley Tucci’s camp talk-show host on TV screens (Peeta is being used as counter-propaganda), so the actor can’t bring his lack of urgency to scenes with Katniss. - David Edelstein, Vulture.

Returning director Francis Lawrence finds interesting visual moments, even in the underground bunker. At one point, Katniss looks down on rows and rows of rebels climbing down, down, down a metallic triangular staircase, and it's like something out of “Metropolis.” That's a pretty bold quotation to make for a film that's also about a proletariat revolution, but even if “Mockingjay” isn't on the level of that silent classic, it's not an altogether inappropriate reference point. - Alonso Duralde, The Wrap.

Inspired changes have also been made. Elizabeth Banks's camp-as-Christmas escort, Effie, looms large, while Julianne Moore's rebel leader, President Coin, is someone we actually trust. Ordinary people repeatedly get to do brave stuff. A stand-out sequence begins with a macabre ballad, The Hanging Tree (sung by the multi-talented Lawrence). It is then taken up by a multitude of voices, while an act of heroism is undertaken by a group we've never met. The yearnsome melody — as much as the increasingly anguished lyrics — makes us feel for these nobodies. This is cinematic spectacle at its best; economical and idiosyncratic. - Charlotte O’Sullivan, London Evening Standard.

Franchises get rebooted, but they don’t normally get rebooted halfway through their run. Without the Hunger Games themselves the film lacks a solid structure. Katniss spends much of the film finding her strength after the abduction of her boyfriend, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The rebels admire her anger and defiance, they’re probably not so keen on her boy-centric fretting … Mockingjay has pace, but Lawrence has none of the flair of original Hunger Games director Gary Ross, who captured the genuine terror of being trapped inside a game of kill-or-be-killed. The gaudy pizzazz of The Capitol, with its Flock of Seagulls inspired fashions and tasteless revelry, is absent. We spend almost all of our time down in the dark with the rebels. - Henry Barnes, The Guardian.

The central challenge faced by new-to-the-series screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong was to bring the story to the brink of the inevitable confrontation between the oppressors and the oppressed. From a dramatic point of view, this would have ideally occupied either the initial third or first half, let's say, of a 140-minute movie, which would have then continued to accelerate toward cathartic action and ultimate resolution. As things stand, however, audiences are left at the edge of a cliff for another year — until November 2015, to be precise — when Part 2 of Mockingjay will be released. - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.

In short, all talents involved seem to have marshaled their significant resources in service of an ever bleaker and more serious-minded portrait of geopolitical conflict, replete with topical parallels (long-range missile attacks, the deliberate targeting of civilian refugees) that cut even closer to home than the filmmakers may have intended — never more than when Snow orders live broadcasts of public executions in each district, the heads of the condemned covered in black hoods. But while helmer Lawrence maintains a steadily absorbing control of the story’s pace, tone and ever-increasing dramatic stakes, the downside of his fidelity to Collins’ novel (the author even gets an “adaptation by” credit this time around) is that the film never shakes off a safe-and-steady, by-the-book feel, or an unfortunate tendency to spell out the obvious. (When Peeta sends Katniss an unmistakable warning, someone helpfully notes, “That was a warning.”) For all its obvious smarts and mildly provocative ideas, “Mockingjay” doesn’t seem to trust its audience quite as much as it clearly trusts its heroine. - Justin Chang, Variety.

“It’s the worst terror in the world,” President Coin tells Katniss, “waiting for something.” The two-hour foot-soldier slog through Mockingjay Part 1 forces audiences into mostly wasteful waiting for something special to happen. Coin and her idealistic minions have hurt Katniss in a way President Snow barely dreamed of by turning this military heroine into a celebrity spokeswoman. The same goes for Collins and the film’s makers: they created the most popular activist-heroine in modern movies—with one of the biggest, most gifted and appealing stars in the world—and make her sit this one out. - Richard Corliss, Time.

Thanks to overlapping shooting and editing schedules, directors now can gauge reactions to a penultimate film and tweak the finale. When “Mockingjay — Part 1” opens next weekend, the filmmakers, who are currently in postproduction on “Part 2,” will have one eye on social media, just as they did when “Catching Fire” opened as they were five weeks into filming the final two “Hunger Games” films. “It’s not going to drive us into reshoots or anything,” Mr. Lawrence said. “But I think when I get a sense of what people are really picking up on emotionally and thematically, that’ll probably inform some of the decision making on Part 2.” - Robert Ito, The New York Times.

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