It's all Harry Potter's fault. Ever since the wizarding franchise so successfully bisected its final chapter into two financially and critically acclaimed parts, it's become a foregone conclusion that every closed-ended blockbuster series will do the same. And why wouldn't they? It doesn't take much to work out that two box office record-smashing films are better than one, particularly when there's no scope for further sequels.
Vehemently though Peter Jackson tried to tell us that three Hobbit films were necessary in order to do justice to the scope and detail of JRR Tolkien's world, we all know that the endgame is financial rather than creative. Die-hard Twilight fans were undeniably grateful for the series' ending being postponed, but would a lean two-hour finale have made for a better movie than two faintly anaemic Breaking Dawns? Probably.
So how will it work for Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins' third and arguably most difficult Hunger Games novel? A bleak, haunting war drama that's relatively free of incident for large chunks, centring on an increasingly broken Katniss and distinctly lacking a victorious third act, it's not really an ideal candidate for the Part Deux treatment.
But there are advantages, particularly in the case of a world with as much backstory as Panem, to screenwriter Danny Strong being given a little more breathing room. Despite Catching Fire's hefty running time, a few key elements from the book were left out – most notably Haymitch's backstory and Katniss's interactions with refugees from other districts – whereas there's scope in Mockingjay to include these moments that flesh out character rather than furthering plot.
PLEASE NOTE: The rest of this article contains SPOILERS for the entire plot of Mockingjay. You have been warned.
As in the book, Catching Fire ended on the blunt, shocking revelation that "there is no District 12", and we pick up in Mockingjay with Katniss surveying the ruins of her former home, which has been gutted by bombings from the Capitol. We find out in passing that Gale was instrumental in evacuating the 800 or so survivors from the district (including Katniss's mother and sister), which could make a stunning flashback sequence in itself if Strong wants to throw us in at the dramatic deep end.
One inclusion that feels indispensable, now that there's space for it to be realised properly on screen, is Haymitch's victory in the second Quarter Quell. His experience and tactics in the arena bear a lot of parallels to Katniss's – at one point he holds a young female ally's hand as she dies, and he wins by using the arena's force field as a weapon, an act that's viewed as revolutionary by the Capitol. After this stunt, Haymitch's mother, younger brother and girlfriend were all killed by Snow in retribution.
All of this backstory was left out of Catching Fire, but it'd be downright criminal for it not to be portrayed in one of the two Mockingjay instalments. We're already mulling over who could play the young Haymitch, who was described as "something of a looker" before he climbed inside a bottle.
One of the biggest problems split sequels encounter is finding an appropriate dividing point for the story, but Mockingjay has the perfect shock Part One ending already built in. Peeta has been rescued from the Capitol after months of separation from Katniss, and she's overjoyed at being reunited with him... until he tries to strangle her on sight."My lips are forming his name when his fingers lock around my throat" is a moment that feels tailor-made for big screen shock value, and it'll add some bite to Katniss and Peeta's so-far-so-uninspiring dynamic on screen.
It's also possible that two movies will allow us to see more from the perspective of different characters – the last two films' focus on President Snow and the Gamemakers have already shown that breaking away from Katniss's point of view isn't a problem. We might see more of Peeta's experiences while he's held captive by Snow (although this would dispel a lot of the suspense surrounding his return), or more of the scarred Finnick and Johanna, or Katniss's sister Prim working as a doctor in District 13.
And then, of course, there's the epilogue. Like the downbeat, troubled cousin of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' incongruously neat wrap-up, Collins' epilogue picks up with Katniss, Peeta and their two children some twenty years into the future. Many fans felt that Gale, whose relationship with Katniss is central throughout most of Mockingjay, got short-changed here, thanks to the unconfirmed possibility that he engineered the bombing that killed Prim. Katniss shuts him out, and the last we hear is that he's nabbed "a fancy job" very far away from her in District 2. A legion of shippers mourns, and understandably so.
The temptation might be to pad out the epilogue with additional scenes as fan service; scenes that honour the established bond between Katniss and Gale, or expand on the fates of other supporting characters, all of whom go unmentioned on the page. But the lack of closure is an essential part of the ambiguity that makes Mockingjay's ending so bold and so fitting for what's essentially a very dark, morally difficult series. Whatever else might change for the better on screen, the ending is note-perfect as it is.
Watch the cast of The Hunger Games discuss Mockingjay at the SOURCE since the vid won't embed.