In the wake of the resounding success of the first Hunger Games movie, Lionsgate raised some eyebrows by announcing Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy would be spun into four films. The third book Mockingjay would be split in two. This raised predictable outcry of a cash grab. But two years later, we're finally seeing where director Francis Lawrence has divided the final chapter of Katniss Everdeen. And frankly, it's perfection.
WARNING: The following will contain spoilers for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.
There were some serious concerns when Lionsgate announced The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 & 2. Chief among these was how could such a short book support two movies. At 390 pages, there was in theory a lot less ground to cover than the 750-some pages of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows or Twilight: Breaking Dawn offer. But while The Hunger Games books were solely embedded with their heroine Katniss Everdeen, the movies have taken flight into terrains unseen by she, like the secret political meetings of President Snow, or the control room of the titular games. In the third film of this franchise, this approach makes its biggest difference yet.
As much as I liked the books, the third was a let down. After two novels of Katniss kicking ass and taking names, the third had her crippled with fear, and frequently unconscious when the action was going on elsewhere. Later, she'd be caught up via exhausted exposition dumps. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 doesn't discard Katniss's internal struggle, but downplays it in favor of focusing on her desire to get Peeta out of the Capitol's clutches. This makes for a more proactive protagonist, and gives a clear focus to this Part 1: Save Peeta.
The screenwriters (Peter Craig and Danny Strong) also make strategic changes, weaving Effie in for welcomed comic relief, and showing audiences the breathtaking sacrifices and rebellions that are breaking out in other districts. It opens up the world of the film, and makes Katniss's struggle less insular. All of this fills in the film's narrative in a way that feels enriching, not like packed on fluff. It builds to setup the climactic final chapter, in a way that has us already eager. And yet offers enough of a resolution that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 feels like a satisfying story.
Seriously, this next section will discuss the film's conclusion. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Just as she was in Catching Fire, Katniss is dedicated to saving Peeta. She risks enraging her new allies and her own life to get him away from President Snow. With each new interview with Caesar Flickerman, Peeta looks worse, growing scrawny, pale and increasingly anxious. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1's big climactic scene is entirely about using everything at District 13's disposal--from top-notch tech to trained soldiers to mind games--to get Peeta back. When Katniss rushes in to see him, her voice cracks with joy as she says his name. And he--that Peeta who so adores her--lunges, grabbing her by the throat in a horrifying effort to strangle her to death with his bare hands. Katniss blacks out after Boggs beats Peeta over the head to break his literal chokehold. Fade to the longest five-seconds of black Hunger Games fans will ever know.
Fade up on Katniss in a hospital, unable to speak with a thick neck brace immobilizing her head. Her eyes are red, her face etched with panic and pain. And here, she's told that Peeta has been weaponized, brainwashed by Snow to kill her. Her colleagues confer on whether Peeta truly can be saved. And as Coin delivers a rousing speech to her people, Katniss dares to see her prize, Peeta. Though strapped into a hospital bed, he's thrashing wildly. He's unrecognizable with his rage and violence. And superimposed over this horror is Katniss's stricken expression reflected in safety glass. Black out.
The screenwriters created a quest in getting Peeta back. By the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, it's accomplished. And yet, not completely. We get the satisfaction of knowing Peeta is safe from Snow. But are lured to return to see if Katniss and her friends can bring him back from the brink of insanity. Book readers know this is a battle so intense that it easily merits its own movie. And lucky us. We'll have one next year.