This weekend, The Hunger Games: MockingJay, Part 1 hit theaters, and let me say this: Considering this could have been a mere placeholder for the final film, it was actually kind of awesome.

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’re familiar with this global phenomenon… Katniss Everdeen volunteers herself in the place of her sister for the annual Hunger Games, an event in which each of the twelve districts of post-apocalyptic America, now a county called Panem, choose one adolescent boy and one adolescent girl to enter an arena and fight to the death. Only one of the 24 so-called “tributes” can leave alive, and the event serves as both grim entertainment as well as a reminder of the control the tyrannical Capitol has over its citizens and how expendable each life really is to them. Katniss Everdeen tricks the Gamemakers into allowing her and Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute from her home district, both to win the Hunger Games, but it comes at a price and kind of stokes the embers of a rebellion.
Over the course of the next movie, those flames begin to catch fire. Catching Fire, the second book and film in the series, picks up after the events of the predecessor: Katniss and Peeta return to their district only to learn that the next year’s Hunger Games will have a twist: Tributes will be pulled from the existing pool of victors. This puts Katniss and Peeta back in the arena for a second time, and this time it’s not just a battle of life and death, but also a game of alliances. In short, the victors are pissed; having proven themselves and fought to win their individual Games, instead of a life of peace, wealth, and fame, they’re now going to be pitted against one another until there’s only one left standing… unless there’s a way out.
After Katniss blows up the arena’s electromagnetic barrier, insurgents from District 13, which was thought to have been bombed and razed to the ground by the Capitol many years prior to end a potential rebellion, swoop in to rescue Katniss and take her back to the safety of their underground bunkers. When she wakes up in the hospital wing, we learn that they want Katniss to use the fame she gained by winning one Hunger Games, defying the Capitol and blowing up the arena in the last Games, to be their Mockingjay, the symbol of the revolution. We also learn that Peeta has been captured by the Capitol, and that the districts have begun to fight back against the oppression.
That brings us to the third, and final, book in the series, which — predictably — was split into two films, part one and part two. Released on Friday, November 21, 2014, Mockingjay, Part 1 topped lists of most anticipated films of the year. The beau and I went to see it yesterday evening, and I was pleasantly surprised. The third book was my least favorite because I felt like it moved in slow motion; there didn’t really seem to be any sense of urgency, especially after they rescued Peeta, and there was way too much of them just sitting around in the underground bunkers of District 13 and being all angsty and pissy. I felt with the last book being split into two films, this first part would consist of all the worst parts of the book. Fortunately, the filmmakers minimized the downtime and maximized the action, making this layover between the second film and the series finale a dark, tense, and entertaining ride all its own.

Synopsis
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a mess, and some even say she’s “ruined,” that “the Games ruined her.” She can’t sleep, and all she can think about is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who she believes was likely killed when he was captured by the Capitol after she blew up the force field around the arena in the last book/film.
Most everyone has laid new roots in District 13. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the Gamemaker of the 75th Hunger Games, had been a double agent and working closely with President Coin (Julianne Moore), the somewhat cold and all-business leader of District 13. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) has to “dry out” since 13 is a dry district, and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) puts herself into solitary confinement due to the drab gray clothing she’s not accustomed to wearing.

Coin is disappointed — she had been under the impression that Katniss was a feisty, fiery leader. In an effort to stoke the flames of her hatred for the Capitol, they decide to send Katniss to see the charred remains of District 12, which used to be her home. The Hall of Justice lay in ruins, like much of the rest of the town. Katniss comes across mounds of charred bodies, people who were killed while trying to escape the fire-bombing. Surprisingly, her home in the Victors’ Village was unharmed; in a vase of dead, dried flowers, Katniss finds a beautiful white rose on the cusp of blossoming, which had clearly been left for her to find.

The plan worked, but it wasn’t until President Snow (Donald Sutherland) released an interview between Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Peeta, with Peeta urging Katniss to abandon the fight, that Katniss rededicates herself to the cause. Although many of the residents of District 13 call Peeta a traitor for urging Katniss to give up the fight, Katniss is more sure than ever that Peeta is only trying to keep himself alive by saying whatever the Capitol wants him to say, and that he’s probably enduring gruesome acts of torture in the meantime. So Katniss makes a deal with Coin: In exchange for rescuing Peeta and his immunity from being convicted of treason due to his comments, Katniss will be the Mockingjay and the symbol of the revolution.

From that point, Plutarch, Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and Coin decide that Katniss should make a series of propaganda films that they can then air to all the districts. These films will serve the purpose of showing them that Katniss is alive and well, and also incite them to action, to fan the flames of the rebellion. At first they try to film Katniss in a studio and then edit the footage so that it looks like she’s in the midst of battle, but her performance is stiff and unconvincing. Haymitch points out that the most inspiring things Katniss has said and done were not things she’d been told to do or say, but rather were things she’d done on her own. So instead of getting Katniss to fake it, they decide to fly her into District 8, which is an inactive war zone, to film her seeing the far-reaching destruction that the Capitol has wrought.

For the remainder of Mockingjay, Part 1, it’s “moves and countermoves…” Katniss and District 13, and her own production team consisting of Capitol transplants, create more of these propaganda films that they send to the rest of Panem. Each time, Peeta and President Snow answer with their own film, and each time Peeta looks thinner, more distraught, even emaciated. As you move toward the end of the film, you can see that the climax is going to be the mission to get Peeta back, and especially when you consider some cryptic words from Snow (“It’s the people we love who destroy us.”), we’re left to wonder at what cost that’ll be.

Thoughts and Feedback

Mockingjay, Part 1 was an absolute blast. I was expecting this to be a transitional film, one that was just killing time until the big finale in Mockingjay, Part 2. Fortunately, I was totally wrong.

There are two main storylines in this film. It follows the rescue of Peeta from the Capitol, but it also shows Katniss transform from the reluctant revolutionary to the Mockingjay, the personification of righteousness and freedom from oppression. One of the most boring parts of the book was all the time that was spent showing what life was like underground in District 13; although the reader gets a lot of supplementary information in that time, like how District 13 survived, what they’ve been doing, and what their bigger plans are, those parts of the book were slow and boring. They’re pretty much the reason why the third book was my least favorite.

I feel like Haymitch has the most accurate view of Katniss… she’s really not all that noble. She can be noble, but to this point, most everything she’s done has been pretty self-serving, whether to save her own skin, the skin of those she loves, or because someone tugged on her heartstrings. Since the beginning, she’s only wanted to get herself and Peeta back home alive so she can live in peace. She has always hated the Capitol, but she’s never been specifically out to get them. Katniss never truly becomes the Mockingjay that everyone sees her as until this film.
It’s also here that Katniss realizes she truly does love Peeta, and that her love for Peeta is greater than what she thought she felt for Gale (Liam Hemsworth), which is something I’m sure many viewers have been waiting on. The dynamic between Katniss and President Snow is very interesting to watch. There’s not a lot of one-to-one contact, but there’s a war happening in Panem with many “moves and countermoves” as President Snow says, which is an indirect means of communicating between the two of them.

Don’t go into this expecting a lot of action. I definitely wouldn’t call this movie boring, but it doesn’t have quite as much action as the first two movies. However, everything about this movie feels bigger, and I think that’s because the stakes are higher. It really feels like The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were stepping stones, building up to this impending civil war that’s starting to break out in Mockingjay, Part 1. And what it lacks in action it makes up for in powerful themes and imagery — there are many moments where you’ll find yourself taken aback, shocked, surprised, and captivated. Though lacking in hand-to-hand combat, there’s plenty here to hold your attention. It’s a smarter film, and a much darker film, with political subtexts and most of the action being abstract, subtle happenings, but with huge implications. Like I said, the stakes are much, much higher this time around, and you can feel that from the moment the film starts through to the end credits.

Box Office Performance and Reception

As far as opening weekends go, Mockingjay, Part 1 has topped the box office for the year, beating blockbusters from Marvel as well as Transformers: Age of Extinction‘s $100 million opening weekend earlier this year. However, at $123 million, Mockingjay, Part 1 is lower than its predecessors, The Hunger Games ($152.5 million opening weekend) and Catching Fire ($158 million). All three movies opened the weekend before Thanksgiving, so although these are high numbers, to date this is the lowest opening weekend of any film in the series.
There seems to be a disparity between what critics and audiences are saying. Audiences have been very pleased by Mockingjay, Part 1, but critics have tended to be mixed or divided with some calling it great and some saying it was the most uneventful installment in the franchise. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 67% rating with the consensus being that the “penultimate chapter [is] loaded with solid performances and smart political subtext, though… short on the action front.” 
One critic called the film tense and “gripping” in the way it portrays the “ethical ambiguities of war.” Though the action is kind of light and dispersed throughout, many have been praising the action scenes of this film and calling them smart, energetic, and epic. In one of the film’s scenes, the characters have to retreat to the deepest level of their underground bunker due to an air attack, and although the bombing occurs off-screen and is only known to the viewer through sound effects and rumbles, it’s a well-done sequence and one of the most exciting parts of the film despite not really showing much.
The performances are great too, especially Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss. She plays each stage of her character’s metamorphosis with aplomb, such as when Katniss is distraught over Peeta’s capture, or when she finds out he’s alive, or when she becomes reinvigorated in her hatred for the Capitol, or when she is watching District 8’s hospital burn. Katniss experiences many emotions and transitions through many diverse states of mind in this film, and Lawrence hits each and every one of them out of the park. 
However, not everyone has been pleased. Some have considered this installment to be “disappointingly bland and unnecessarily protracted.” A review in Time magazine says that the movie gave Jennifer Lawrence very little to do and is the weakest installment in the franchise, merely a placeholder for the final film.

Bottom Line

Yes, the movie doesn’t have a ton of action. However, the movie feels every bit as epic as both the previous installments, and is actually even darker this time around. The stakes have most certainly been raised, and the reverberations of Catching Fire can still be felt even in the underground bunkers of District 13. My attention never wandered and I never found myself checking the time to see how long I’d been in the theater. In fact, as it started to wind down and I could see the end coming, I so badly wanted it to keep going!
Be aware that much of the movie centers around the propaganda shorts Katniss is filming, the efforts they go to so that the districts can see them and become inspired by them, and what happens in the districts as the rebellion comes to a rolling boil. Moves and countermoves. It’s a very political movie, but Katniss is not in a political position; Katniss is a symbol of the revolution doing whatever she’s told could help their cause, and it’s from her point of view that we experience the profundities of the political subtext that the movie delivers. And I will say that due to the action scenes being rather few and juxtaposed between longer periods of more cerebral, emotional, and symbolic sequences, they’re very powerful and will have you on the edge of your seat.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 gets a solid 8 stars out of 10. It has every bit of depth to stand on its own without being merely a placeholder for the final film. In fact, this might even be my favorite film of the series so far. I feel that the imagery and themes are much darker, much more adult than the previous films, and I was actually disappointed by how the violence of the first two books had been diluted and padded to much less effect than in the books. Although there’s no more blood or gore in this film than in the previous two, the horrors have bigger implications. Like I said, the stakes are bigger, and it makes for a very exciting, very satisfying first part to the finale. 

Mockingjay, Part 2

Both Part 1 and Part 2 were filmed back-to-back from September 23, 2013, to June 20, 2014. Filming locations included Atlanta and surrounding areas, Paris, Berlin Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, and other areas in Europe. In February of this year, Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose, but it was announced that he’d finished filming most of his scenes.
Over the course of the year, there have been some set photos released of the cast filming scenes for the second film. There are photos of Katniss, Peeta and the gang in their war gear walking around war-raged cities and what looks to be the Capitol. Areas of Paris were dressed so as to be suitable for the Capitol sequences. You can also see Katniss and Gale in disguise, likely when they’re infiltrating the Capitol leading up to the final climax.
There aren’t many “spoilers” available for the final film since, if you’ve read the book, you already know what’s going to happen. However, it’s still exciting to see pictures of the film that won’t see theatrical release for another year, on November 20, 2015. If there are any major news leaks or revelations, I’ll be sure to post an update about them.
See The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 in theaters nationwide now. Join the revolution.

About the author

My name is Dane. I'm a writer at Android Authority as well as a tech journalist in general. As well, I'm a marketing guru, designer, and a budding web developer. My passions include portmanteaus, artisanal coffees, jackets, and the smell of fresh technology in the morning.