Hunger Games
Katniss inspires the downtrodden people of Panem.Lionsgate Films

"I wish they were all dead and we were too."

That's one of the first lines uttered in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and within 10 minutes of hearing it there are mass public executions, muddy skulls in war-torn wastelands and burning corpses. This is as bleak as such films can possibly get.

The Hunger Games series has always been dark. Gary Ross's original was only a few blood-splattered seconds from being a 15 certificate after all, but still managed to include scenes of children as young as 12 murdering one another.

Picking up where last year's Catching Fire left off, Mockingjay begins with the long-brewing revolution at last beginning to gather steam, and Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen its unwilling catalyst.

Rescued from the destroyed Quarter Quell arena, Katniss has been taken to the thought-to-be-destroyed District 13 where President Coin (Julianne Moore) has been building and gathering the means for rebels to take the fight to Panem's hedonistic and ruthless Capitol.

Hunger Games
Natalie Dormer plays a war reporter shooting propaganda materialLionsgate Films

Katniss isn't just the catalyst of this upheaval, as the Mockingjay she can be the symbol that spurs it forward. This is how Coin and PR man Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hope to use her to unite the impoverished Districts against their oppressors.

This makes Mockingjay Part 1 - intriguingly for a box office-conquering blockbuster - a war film about propaganda rather than combat. There is still action of course, but for every explosion there is a director or camera man yelling "action!"

In front of these cameras is Katniss, our unwilling hero. Even three films in Katniss is still being used by everyone around her. At the start she was the Capitol's disposable gladiator, then a pawn in a political game and now a pawn in a war strategy.

Katniss doesn't know if she's a soldier, a symbol or just a girl who has done the best she could in the worst of circumstances. Her uncertainty and reluctance is crucial to the character, who with each film and each tremendous Lawrence performance is further cemented as a film heroine for the ages.

Good as she is Lawrence doesn't carry the film either, thanks to great support from Moore, Hoffman, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Donald Sutherland as the sneering President Snow.

Hunger Games
Katniss and Gale on the run in war-torn District 8Lionsgate Films

Liam Hemsworth also enjoys his most sizeable role in the series to date as Gale, one third of the series love triangle with Katniss and Josh Hutcherson's Peeta. Pleasingly little has changed over the three films in how that love story is handled, so it remains endearingly simple, natural and never over-egged.

Being part one of a story split for studio-concocted financial reasons, the film was always going to have issues of inactiveness and a lack of resolution, ending as it does in low-key fashion. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 had similar problems, but Mockingjay Part 1 makes the most of them by embracing its story of wartime politics.

Think about it for long enough and you'll notice that not a lot actually happens in the film, but the strength of its themes and performances make it a much more poignant and interesting film than Catching Fire, which essentially retraced the original film's formula.

Part 2 will be the biggest influence on how Part 1 is remembered in years to come, but judged now by its own merits Mockingjay Part 1 is a thoughtful, smart blockbuster of weight sure to challenge its younger target audience and entertain grown-ups too.