With two exhilarating and smart films behind them it seemed unlikely the team behind The Hunger Games would drop the ball third time around.
Mockingjay - Part 1, the first of a two-part finale, is more a slight fumble. While not as good as its predecessors, it's a different kind of film - there's less action and more talk.
Director Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire) returns with a superb A-list cast, led by the enigmatic Jennifer Lawrence who holds the film together with her strong and nuanced performance as heroine Katniss Everdeen.
Both Lawrences' keep us focused on the core issue, the growing tension between President Snow, the dictator of post-apocalyptic world Panem, and the Rebels who are determined to win freedom for the downtrodden people of the Districts.
Unlike the previous films, Katniss Everdeen doesn't set foot inside the arena as a participant. This time she has a different role to play as Mockingjay, the figurehead of the rebellion tasked with uniting the districts against the Capital.
It's a job she takes to save her Hunger Games co-star Peeta (Hutcherson), who has been taken hostage by President Snow.
This new direction offers a fresh setup and narrative as Katniss and President Snow move and countermove, but without the brutal action of the previous films, Mockingjay doesn't have the same on-the-edge-of-your seat intensity.
Instead of being shocked by a reality TV show where participants slaughter each other, Katniss hangs out with those who have recruited her, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman - to whom the film is dedicated), in District 13's underground bunker plotting and planning their revolution.
Occasionally they let Katniss and her childhood friend Gale (Hemsworth) out to shoot a propaganda video, an event that often turns into a short battle with the Capital, just to give us a little thrill. It also provides new faces for the franchise, most notably the gutsy Natalie Dormer as Cressida, who directs the PR videos for the rebels.
Other characters get less attention, including Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), but still do what they do best by adding a touch of lightness to what is a rather serious film.
The decision to split author Suzanne Collins final book came with some risk - it worked for the Harry Potter franchise, but failed for Twilight. The key to success is having enough material for two films, and in this case fans should be happy enough to get more face time with one of the coolest female heroines going round.
The action audience may wish for less talking and more mayhem - but Mockingjay does enough as a transitional film, while getting us amped for what's to come.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson & Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
Running Time: 123 mins
Rating: M (Violence)
Verdict: More low-key than previous films, but sets up the finale nicely.