Let's get serious here. Does anyone like the novel Mockingjay? The final installment in Suzanne Collins' mega-successful young adult dystopian trilogy is the most divisive among Hunger Games fans, and the apprehension towards the final film seemed obvious. Not only were fans wondering how the franchise would go out, many (myself included) hated the decision to split it into two separate films. For the record, Harry Potter was the only franchise that needed to do this. Twilight didn't, and, it seemed, that The Hunger Games was simply drawing out the series to a more lucrative close.
I personally haven't revisited Mockingjay since it was released, and I urge fans to not feverishly re-read Collins' final novel before going into this adaptation. After The Hunger Games left audiences a bit famished two years ago, Catching Fire destroyed everyone's expectations. Mockingjay -- Part I doesn't have the action that whet everyone's last winter, but it sets the stage for an emotional climax. It also features strong performances from everyone involved. Sorry, David O. Russell. Jennifer Lawrence is better in Catching Fire and Mockingjay than she was in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle--Oscars be damned!
The action picks up almost exactly where Catching left off. Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen is now shacking up in the underground barracks of District 13 while plans against the Capital are made. Peeta is being held captive, and District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is a quiet, careful presence. Katniss is going to be used as a symbol of the resistance, but Coin is hesitant at first, because she thinks the Games broke Katniss' spirit. Mockingjay reads like war novel, and the tone of the film is very grey and somber. Some of the districts have crumbled altogether, and director Francis Lawrence isn't afraid to show the small towns smoking and destroyed. There is a creepy moment early on where Katniss visits District 12, and the skeletons of her fellow townspeople lay scattered in this young adult wasteland.
Did Mockingjay need to be split into two films? No. I admit, though, that I was taken by the penultimate segment. It lacks action, and it does feel like it's turning into The Hunger Games: Mockingjay PR Campaign in the first half. A camera crew follows Katniss around to film propaganda material to rile up the other districts, and the audience might wonder when the plot will actually kick in. We wait around for something to actually happen, because we are promised something will eventually transpire. The cast makes it all rather compelling. Lawrence has mastered the single tear cry, and the short scenes between her and Moore are, honestly, thrilling. Where would we get to see two women arguing war tactics in a blockbuster winter release? It's also very bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final film roles (the film is dedicated to him).
The emotion amps up in the last 20 minutes or so, and I could almost hear my audience drooling for more (Effie's fleshed out film role was much appreciated as well). I could probably watch a Hunger Games film every winter (especially if they continue to dress up Josh Hutcherson in Capital clothing that makes him look like Liberace's favorite rentboy). Mockingjay's seemingly early chilly critial reception seems a bit overblown. This film definitely sets us up for something big, and I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.