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November 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s no question but that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 will dominate the box office this weekend. In many cases, theaters will be evicting other films from their auditoriums and replacing them with this, the third entry in Lionsgate’s triumphantly successful franchise. That juggle doesn’t include IMAX screens, however. Those have already been taken over by Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which actually employed real IMAX cameras to film many of the scenes. (Nolan also opened the film with previews almost exclusively on IMAX screens and has been enthusiastically trumpeting the process and championing the use of film rather than digital substitutes, while Mockingjay director Francis Lawrence has boasted that he shot his movie entirely with digital cameras, better to capture its narrow, “claustrophobic” settings.) IMAX decides which films are to be presented on its screens and decided to stick with Interstellar, even though the movie is entering its third weekend. The lack of IMAX screens may prevent Mockingjay from enjoying the massive box-office success that last year’s Catching Fire did when it opened over the comparable weekend with $158 million. (During Thursday-night previews it earned an estimated $17 million, versus $25 million for Fire‘s Thursday debut) And, unlike the previous two films, it’s also not getting much of a boost from critics, either, with most of them suggesting that it amounts to a longish teaser for next year’s finale. Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle calls it “shoddy merchandise” — like buying a broken toaster. “Except that analogy is too kind,” he adds, “in that Mockingjay would be half a toaster. It’s half a movie — half of a stretched-out, very bad movie.” Rafer Guzm├ín in Newsday expresses not so much anger but sadness at seeing a franchise that he once reviewed favorably giving up its original “higher aspirations.” It is, he writes, “a disappointing third entry in a series that initially promised us so much.” Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post describes it as a “dutiful, glumly atmospheric placeholder” for the finale. That term, “placeholder,” is invoked by several critics, including Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who writes that it “exists not so much for itself but to smooth the transition from its hugely successful predecessors to a presumably glorious finale one year hence.” Peter Howell in the Toronto Star awards it 2-1/2 stars and remarks that the franchise “has reached the point — attained earlier by the Harry Potter and Twilight properties — where commercial storytelling turns to pure greed.” Nevertheless, Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News comments unenthusiastically that “once you accept that the splitting of Mockingjay is a business decision, not a dramatic imperative, Part 1 comes off as a curiously satisfying nonaction movie.” That’s pretty much several other critics’ reaction to the film, who note that its star, Jennifer Lawrence, spends much of it reacting rather than acting. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times writes that Lawrence is virtually sidelined in this installment. “She still has plenty to say and do, though not enough, partly because, in chopping the last book into two movies … and by embracing the blockbuster imperative — big bangs and action — the filmmakers lose sight of her.” Lou Lumenick in the New York Post comes down harder on the filmmakers, asking, “How do you waste one of the most exciting young actresses of our time — not to mention the time and money of millions of moviegoers?” The filmmakers do so, he says, “by turning Jennifer Lawrence’s groundbreaking woman warrior, Katniss Everdeen, into pretty much a spectator in this insufferably dull penultimate installment” On the other hand, Claudia Puig in USA Today observes that Lawrence is “perfect in the part,” bringing “an authenticity that’s striking.” Mockingjay, which Puig calls, “the most absorbing and best in the series,” amounts, she says, to “a well-crafted emotional cliffhanger.”