MOCKINGJAY PART I is The Empire Strikes Back of The Hunger Games, which is to say that things don't look good for anyone. Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss finds herself in the cone-shaped underground city of District 13, where the seemingly trustworthy but definitely shifty President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, whose truly bizarre colored contacts distract from what is otherwise a solid performance) is in charge, assisted by game-master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose presence is reassuring, then sad).
If the first Hunger Games movies were about survival, this one is about political strategy. A Skrillex-haired Natalie Dormer is Katniss' de facto communications director, following with a video camera as Katniss goes on missions to bombed-out districts in Panem, aiming to stir up support for the rebellion against the Capitol. Weird as it is to watch the action of the first two movies slow into stilted conversation about what basically amounts to campaign attack ads, The Hunger Games has always, in a sense, been about the power of Katniss' illusory persona. Here, it's just being used for something larger than her individual survival.
So it's no surprise that one of Mockingjay's screenwriters is Danny Strong. Though probably best known as a minor villain on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Strong also wrote the screenplays for Lee Daniels' The Butler and HBO's Game Change (which starred Julianne Moore as a very different potentially terrifying political leader—Sarah Palin).
There's a lot about Mockingjay that works. Like Catching Fire, also directed by Francis Lawrence, it's full of beautifully filmed ruined landscapes, and almost offensively brief appearances from excellent actors (Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Jena Malone stand out in particular). If you love The Hunger Games, you will probably also love Mockingjay. But like The Empire Strikes Back, it offers about as much warmth as the ice planet Hoth.