I do absolutely acknowledge that unlike the two previous films, 'Mockingjay: Part 1' doesn't feel like a complete film; it is practically all build-up and doesn't have a proper ending, and I agree that splitting the last book into two films was an inherently stupid, purely greed-driven decision by the studio. Also, due to that idiotic split of the last chapter, the film is largely deprived of the action/adventure elements that so many fans loved in the first two films, which must be especially disappointing to non-book-readers who didn't expect such a drastic change in tone. But if we ignore its most obvious flaws for a moment, the film has actually quite a few things going for it.
For instance, it offers a surprisingly realistic portrayal of a totalitarian society on the brink of an all-out civil war, and unlike other Hollywood adaptations of such tales, it dares to put the emphasis on the human drama instead of the special effects. And it remains faithful to the book: it would have been fairly easy to invent a couple of heroic battle scenes to amp up the spectacle (Hollywood is notorious for such disregard of source material - and such disregard for the fans), and I must say I appreciated the film precisely because of its NOT solely action-driven narrative.
But the most impressive aspect about 'Mockingjay: Part 1' is how layered it actually is. This is not the good-against-evil story of the first two films anymore: this is a really smart study on how propaganda works and how one fascist system is about to be replaced - albeit with the best intentions - by another. This kind of moral ambiguity (and again: faithfulness to the novel) is not what we usually get in blockbusters aimed at teenagers, and for that alone the film deserves some credit.
Also, what the film does masterfully, is showing how Katniss transforms upon the devastating realization that she has helped - or has been instrumentalised - to set a process in motion that she can neither stop nor control, a process which has already led to a terrible loss of human life for which she now feels responsible. She is torn apart by inner conflict because her hate for Snow and everything he stands for is bigger than ever - yet at same time, it begins to dawn on her that the leaders of the rebellion employ methods which don't seem to be all that different. The lines between what is morally acceptable and what is not start to blur. A very wise person once said: "War makes fascists of us all" - I believe 'Mockingjay: Part 1' does an excellent job at getting that point across.
Unlike in most popcorn movies, there are no mere black and white characters here (well, except maybe for Snow); instead, we get a story that - for once - hasn't been dumbed down and functions as a sincere exploration of an escalating civil war that threatens to consume everyone. And unlike most YA adaptations, the film doesn't shy away from showing what that means: the audience is left in no doubt about the human toll this revolution will take in the end.
Maybe the current situation in countries like Syria after the initially peaceful revolution that was the Arab Spring made this film resonate more with me than it should have, but I was surprised at how un- Hollywood-like this was done. And I can't stress this enough: Jennifer Lawrence MAKES this film; the whole franchise, really. The emotional intensity she brings to Katniss feels so real; it's the kind of performance that, in this kind of film, sadly often gets overlooked, but I sincerely doubt a better Katniss could ever have been found.
So my final verdict on the film: 'Mockingjay: Part 1' offers intelligent entertainment that doesn't solely rely on special effects and one mindless action scene after another. It's a fitting continuation of Katniss' journey, but - and that is the one serious downside to this film - it doesn't lead that journey to its logical conclusion. That the studio wants you to pay once more to see how the journey ends may be understandable from a financial standpoint, but it is a major flaw in the storytelling of an otherwise very good film. Likewise, the final chapter in the series (Mockingjay: Part 2) will likely suffer from having to do without all the dramatic build-up that Part 1 offers.
Still, there is a lot to like in this film and it is far from the boring mess so many reviews made it out to be: 7 stars out of 10.
Favorite Films: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054200841/
Lesser-known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Favorite Low-Budget and B-movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054808375/