The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1: Jennifer Lawrence proves critical to franchise success

Lionsgate got really lucky.

The movie studio, hoping to leapfrog on the success of the “Twilight” film franchise, dove headfirst into the young adult book trilogy market, coming away with a violent dystopian world and needing a female lead to match Bella of “Twilight” fame.

When they cast the girl from “The Bill Engvall Show,” they probably had no idea that she would become the most successful young actress in years, dominating multiple movie franchises and single-handedly carrying the studio forward in much the same way that Katniss carries the rebellion in Lionsgate’s latest installment of the “Hunger Games” series.

What separates the “Hunger Games” films from “Divergent” or the “Maze Runner” is the difference between Lawrence and Shailene Woodley.

Woodley, a nice up-and-coming actress in her own right, could settle into a Kristen Stewart career arc with a little less venom from the general public.

Lawrence, on the other hand, is an Academy Award-winning transcendent talent on screen, who makes “Mockingjay Part 1” something more than a cheap sequel in a way Shia Lebeouf was never able to pull off following the original “Transformers” installment.

As the famed Joan of Arc-like Katniss Everdeen, Lawrence provides the character much more depth and emotional layering than the series deserves.

“Mockingjay Part 1” is much darker than the previous two installments in the Hunger Games franchise, which is surprising to say, based on how much “Battle Royale”-esque violence pervades the first two films.

The film isn’t without its major flaws.

Julianne Moore is an abysmal choice to play the rebellion’s president, a wholly unlikeable character lacking in emotion or depth.

It’s as if Moore intended on copying Kate Winslet’s static performance in “Divergent” while reading lines from the Suzanne Collins novel.

Forcing Elizabeth Banks’ Effie back into the movie was also a mistake as her presence provides an unwelcome distraction and only muddles an already verbose script.

The film overly glorifies planning and exposition for exposition’s sake, with its two-hour running time easily needing a good 20 minutes hacked out of the middle.

A tremendous effort from Lawrence and a surprising, yet impactful supporting performance from Josh Hutcherson — especially in the film’s final moments — make “Mockingjay Part 1” salvageable and the inevitable “Part 2” something worth looking forward to.

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