The spectre of war casts a long shadow over the penultimate chapter of the blockbusting dystopian thrillers based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 follows the lead of the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas by cleaving the final book in two.
This decision – driven as much by greed as artistic necessity – results in a dark, brooding two hours of self-sacrifice almost devoid of the action sequences that distinguished the earlier films.
Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen, a pawn in the battle of wits between the money-rich Capitol and the impoverished Districts, remains a mesmerising constant.
She delivers another emotionally bruising performance, especially in early scenes when her battle-scarred teenager stares over the smouldering ruins of her beloved District 12, littered with charred skeletons of friends and neighbours who were incinerated as they fled.
This hellish vision brings Lawrence to her knees, unable to hold back racked sobs of pain.
The floodgates open and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong take their time channelling her aching sense of loss into an all-consuming rage which is expected to set the Capitol ablaze this time next year.
“If we burn, you burn with us!” she bellows down a camera lens at President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
We don’t doubt it.
Katniss barely survived the Third Quarter Quell.
Separated from fellow tributes Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Johanna (Jena Malone), who are being held in the Capitol, Katniss gathers her strength in a secret underground complex.
Her allies include childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), architect of the rebellion Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).
The people of the Districts look to Katniss to lead them against President Snow and the armed forces of Panem.
“We’re going to stoke the fire of this revolution that this Mockingjay started,” growls Plutarch, commissioning a series of propaganda videos directed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer), with Katniss as the reluctant star.
Meanwhile, Snow initiates his own forceful media campaign fronted by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and a clearly disoriented Peeta.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is the calm before the storm of full-blown conflict.
It’s a slower burn than previous films and lacks some of the on-screen electricity since Katniss and Peeta are separated, but Lawrence continues to burn bright as the eponymous “girl on fire”.
Effie’s role is expanded from the book to bring some comic relief to the subterranean gloom.
“Everything old can be made new again - like democracy!” she chirrups.
Maybe so, but as Part 1 makes abundantly and agonisingly clear, you have to sacrifice innocent lives to sweep away the past.