Initially, it was the titular event in the Hunger Games franchise that made it such an interesting property. Borrowing both plot and thematic elements from properties like Battle Royale and The Running Man, it was the grotesque idea of pitting children against children in a death match that gave Suzanne Collins’ novels a bit of edge - the terrifying nature of the eponymous "games" obviously creating tremendous drama and tension. With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, however, the series has now found itself moving beyond the arena and its standard action set up, and while this can been seen as a risky move, the truth is that it paid off tremendously.

SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this article contains major spoilers for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and still wish to go into a screening with little knowledge about major plot elements, I would recommend clicking away to one of our other wonderful articles.

It’s not only rare that we would see a blockbuster war film largely set away from the front lines, instead focusing on the politics and need to garner support for revolution, but what The Hunger Games: Mockingjay does subtly and surprisingly well is put the audience in Katniss’ shoes and make them wonder if they are actually rooting for the right side. It’s unquestionable that the higher-ups in the Capitol need to be taken down, as many of the actions committed against the citizens of Panem on their order are truly horrific, but the rebellion and its leaders aren’t exactly without shades of grey either (and I’m not just talking about their jumpsuits). Though Katniss’ emotions are certainly powerful when she is visiting the hospital in District 8, but it also does feel a tad bit slimy that the footage will be used in manipulative fashion. Even when President Coin is addressing the troops you get the same kind of fascistic feel that radiates whenever President Snow is addressing his people. It’s complex and interesting storytelling packaged as sci-fi and targeted at teens – and it’s great.
While politics and propaganda certainly outweigh the action sequences in terms of screentime in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, they also really shouldn’t be undersold because they are memorable and fantastic. The scene where District 7 woodworkers begin shimmying up trees to avoid a pending explosion that will rip across the ground below is tremendous and cinematic, and the sequence where the rebels take down the hydroelectric dam is both dramatic and hard to watch. One can understand why fans might be upset at Katniss’ lack of inclusion in these scenes, as well as the rescuing of Peeta and the other victors at the end, but it honestly speaks to the character’s position within the rebellion – both in that she is too important to lose, and also somewhat helpless within a larger machine.

As we wrote about on Friday, it actually wound up being a great decision to split The Hunger Games: Mockingjay into two parts, as one could easily imagine the aforementioned subtleties and important politics getting more of a breeze over in a more compact affair. Instead, the complexities within the world of Panem are given the chance to breathe and give us a larger sense of the sci-fi world, as well as a reflection of our own. While some audiences may miss the excitement of the Hunger Games arena, the truth is that the latest sequel has moved away from it in a smart and successful way.

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