mockingjay posterHollywood can be so cruel. Splitting the third and final book of The Hunger Games trilogy into two movies feels so… unnecessary. Lucrative, in a “hey, Harry Potter and Twilight got away with it” kind of way. But still, totally unnecessary. Thus Mockingjay – Part 1 is a good movie that could have been great. It’s a means to an end – and that means fans of the franchise will (and should) see it despite my frustrations with a narrative cut short. Then – come next year – we will all surely see it again, as part of a movie marathon, when Mockingjay – Part 2 bows in theaters. Just in time for Thanksgiving 2015! May the odds of remembering what happened in the books – and the first three movies – be ever in our favor.

Mockingjay – Part 1 finds our reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen (still played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence) waking up in the rebel safe haven of District 13 after having put a fork (okay, an arrow) into the craziness that was the Hunger Games – where kid ‘tributes’ from the districts of Panem had been forced to fight to the death as part of some annual penance devised by the autocratic Capitol. Why? It’s complicated. If you really care to know, read the books. See the movies.

Anyway, just as Mockingjay the book had a very different, somewhat darker tone than its literary and cinematic predecessors The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this latest film has a very different vibe given the absence of gameplay. The ‘arena’ is now all of Panem, where the spirit of rebellion is brewing once again, thanks to Katniss. Rebel leaders and sympathizers – including District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman) know that Katniss is the last, best chance for overthrowing the Capitol and that she is the symbol of hope – the Mockingjay – that will inspire the people to rise up and fight, at all costs.

The cast of returning characters include Katniss’s romantic rivals Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her sister Prim (Willow Shields), her alcoholic mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the comic relief, commentator Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Katniss’s former chaperone Effie (a stripped-down, scene-stealing Elizabeth Banks).

Mockingjay – Part 1 is the precursor to an all-out revolution against the Capitol. It’s filled with political symbolism, plenty of subtle and overt satire, and strong acting that transforms a young-adult-centric story into a film franchise with broad appeal.

But seriously, the whole two-parter thing? It’s getting way old.

P.S. Mockingjay is not designed to work as a ‘stand-alone’ movie for those who haven’t read the books by Suzanne Collins or seen the first two movies. It does, however, serve its fan base rather well.

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