Not being a young adult, much of the recent "Young Adult" boom has passed me by. As much as anything this is because it's simply not aimed at me, and so many of the beats that make it popular with say, teenagers, are ones that I'm very familiar with (as YA existed long before it got it's own shelves at Waterstones) or don't appeal because I'm forced to admit that I'm not probably sort-of middle aged. Dammit. Anyway, the one series that does seem to have connected with me is the Hunger Games - I enjoyed the books, and the first two films were both corking good fun, anchored in strong performances and smart adaptation choices. However, as is the way of things, they have split the final book in two, and we've only just caught up with Mockingjay, Part 1, and will have to wait for the proper finale later this year.
In fairness to the team behind the movie, Mockingjay has to cover a lot of ground. Picking up from after the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire, we are introduced the District 13, and filled in on a bunch of the politics and backstory that got dropped in the earlier movies, and somehow expand the world out from one of Katniss' battle to survive and endure, to a full-blown revolutionary narrative. Mockingjay Part 1 doesn't feel padded, or bloated, and doesn't suffer from a sense that this is being drawn out artifically; its not as wildly incoherent, for example, as the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, nor as randomly dull as any of the Hobbit films. It does, however, suffer from being only half a film.
There is a solid attempt to let the movie stand on it's own by bringing to it a big central theme - that of media manipulation and propaganda wars. As Katniss and Peeta become vital symbols, the blatant manipulation of Peeta is played against the more subtle manipulation of Katniss, and the importance of symbolism, always a subtext item in the series, is right there front and centre. Which is pretty cool. It misses a couple of tricks in places, as the movie itself continues to play big emotive scenes of Katniss, rather than the movie showing the media creating them, but on the whole it's nice to see this explored at all, and certainly Part 2 probably won't have chance to.
A more serious problem is with Katniss herself. Jennifer Lawrence is, as is she is in pretty much everything, a great presence, but Katniss spends most of the film dazed and demoralised, passive and controlled. It's understandable - hell, it's partly the point - but there is only rare flashes of her more pro-active, righteous nature that made her a symbol in the first place. I know they're holding this back; I know what's to come, but as a film in it's own right Mockingjay Part 1 is robbed of a central moment of strength for it's central character.
The surrounding cast are pretty good too - with Peeta only appearing distantly, and Haymitch also pretty absent, we do get a camera team that includes Marjery Tyrell and Foggy Nelson to make up for it, which is pretty cool. Watching Julianne Moore and Phillip Seymour Hoffman work makes their scenes a great thrill (if tempered by not a small amount of loss) and the series emphasis on character remains intact.
So yes, Mockingjay Part 1 is half a movie - which makes it hard to judge on it's own right. I think its a good half, and I think it's doing a good job setting up it's second half, but it's so completely lacking any sort of proper resolution or final act, it's hard to assess in any other way. It does succeed in making really look forward to Part 2, though, so there is that.