When it comes to the books, Mockingjay is my least favorite of the trilogy. It's got nothing to do with the fact that it's bleakest - I love that it's not afraid to go to dark places - but that it's structurally the weakest of the three. It always felt like two different stories, and don't even get me started on how rushed the ending was (I love the author to death for her characterizations, but man, does she suck at endings).
So when they announced the book was getting split into two movies, I was thrilled. I didn't care that it was likely happening because of greed - Twilight and Harry Potter started the whole thing by making money this way - because it meant that if they were smart, they'd split the book up the way I thought it should've been in the first place.
Thank god I was right.
This movie is all about the construction of the mockingjay. Katniss is ever the reluctant hero, never more so than in the first half of Mockingjay. She's been broken by the second games, betrayed by the people she trusted the most, and thrust into the center of attention she loathes. That's where Jennifer Lawrence shines. This was probably the most emotionally resonant her character has been since the series started. It's only the prospect of saving Peeta that gets her to even consider agreeing to their plans for her, and thus the driving thrust of this movie is begun.
It's all about saving Peeta for her. Sure, there's the getting roused to anger by the reality of what Snow is doing to the districts, but ultimately, she is driven by her need to save Peeta. She failed to do that in the games and it haunts her, because she has always believed he deserved it more than anyone.
So while it's got its actiony moments, this is a much more somber, dramatic film than its predecessors. It succeeds in inciting the audience during the bombing of District 8 scenes - and the line I always felt was clunky in the book about if they burn, Snow burns, too is delivered with such conviction and pain by Lawrence that I was ready to follow her, too - but it also proves to resonate during the quiet moments, like the haunting Hanging Tree montage when she goes back to film in District 12.
One of the biggest changes from the book lies in Effie. She doesn't appear in the third book at all, but here, she's a political refugee brought in to be Katniss's stylist/escort while filming her propos. She provides confirmation of what happened to Cinna that we have to infer in the book, but more appropriately, she's a little bit of humorous light amidst the darkness (not to lose fact that she's also wonderful at the tragic bits).
Is it perfect? Definitely not. I always felt District 13 was a lot more claustrophobic than how it's portrayed in the film, and the tragedy of a broken Finnick is almost completely erased by keeping him in only a few scenes and jumping ahead past his problems. (He's still doing all his knots, though, which only served to remind me constantly of the missed opportunity there.)
But it worked for me, and I think it's going to work for a lot of fans of the books (the audience erupted in applause when it was over). Just don't expect closure. The games aren't over yet.