The Hunger Games become war games in the latest installment of the franchise, but the rules remain the same: a contest of messaging and propaganda as much as of fighting prowess. The most memorable moment in the film is when Katniss's genuine anger is captured by "our" camera and transformed into a rebel campaign video. The same frames are taken from the film we see to become something the characters see – another reminder (for those seduced by film's power to represent reality) of the subjective nature of the medium. It's a startling effect.
The propaganda videos almost have the satirical crudity of the ads in Paul Verhoven's Starship Troopers, and a further push in that direction would have been welcome. You do get glimpses of fascistic ritual in the revolutionary District 13: a militarised community stripped of individuality – something highlighted by the presence of Effie, the stylist from the Games and a self-declared "prisoner of war". Effie's obsession with fashion and celebrity were mocked in the previous films, but are a reminder here that decadence is just another word for civilization.
Splitting the film in two was roundly condemned as a ploy to milk the series as much as possible, but there is a logic to it. The story of Part 1 is structured around the two sides using survivors of the Games (Katniss and Peeta) in a war of hearts and minds. It is an extension of the televised killathon: Katniss's destruction of the arena in Catching Fire blew the conflict into society at large. And the film concludes with the end of this round of the "game": a battle won by the rebels, but at the cost of the individuals used in the campaign. Katniss, as ever, remains the hero due to her inability to go beyond the personal to the political. She treats people as ends rather than means, insisting on Peeta's rescue even though it doesn't make strategic sense. She is a messianic figure – the figurehead of the rebellion, not a person who can lead it.
Cut the final book in half and you still get a two-hour film – and the flab is distracting. The first 30 minutes slow the tempo right down while Katniss takes a needless trip back home to collect the family cat. There is also a pointless escalation midway through where same cat has to be rescued before District 13's blast doors shut. The film could have been a lean, mean 90 minutes and would have served as a welcome reprieve from the blockbuster bloat we can expect from the coming Hobbit.