Review: 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2' is a Thrilling Conclusion to an Epic Series
by Jeremy Kirk
November 20, 2015
The odds were not always in favor of The Hunger Games. Sure, when Lionsgate and indie studio Color Force picked up the rights to the Suzanne Collins' series in 2009, the young adult craze was in full swing. Still, nothing was guaranteed. Just ask the people behind The Golden Compass film about risks and rewards in the game of YA adaptations. They'll have some stories of heartbreak. Since the release of The Hunger Games in 2012, though, this was the new franchise by which others were measured. It's taken just four years for the series to begin and reach its inevitable conclusion, and that time has finally come. The series on fire ends with Mockingjay – Part 2, the thrilling conclusion to a truly awesome series of movies.
As mentioned in my review for last year's entry into the series, the first half of Mockingjay, there's a built-in flaw any time a novel is split into two or more films. Hell, for decades, moviegoers have used the term "not as good as the book," and this latest trend is an even bigger disservice to any source material. Mockingjay – Part 1 set the stage nicely, and there's little question Part 2 delivers a stunning finale that satisfies fans of the books as well as the movies. The nagging feeling that we're only getting half the story with this swing is always present, though, even if it ultimately knocks it out of the park in execution.
Director Francis Lawrence does what he can with Mockingjay – Part 2's pacing, and he does it well. The film constantly ramps up into its action set-pieces, the next of which is always right around the corner. This is certainly the war-ravaged conclusion for which fans have been aching, holding back very little.
It's down to the full-on assault on the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) by the resistance, most of the citizens of Panem jumping behind support of the Mockingjay. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence still playing the part with full "Girl on fire" attitude) is unsure of practically every aspect to this “war.” Her two-time Hunger Games partner and possible love interest, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), has been brainwashed into a murderous hatred of Katniss. She is even reluctant to fully support the leaders of the resistance for which she fights, President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the former games master who has turned his expertise against the Capitol. All this reluctance, though, isn't stopping Katniss from her goal, putting President Snow down permanently and ending the tyrannical reign over the people of Panem.
Even with that straightforward synopsis and even with the action hitting hard and often Mockingjay – Part 2 takes its time setting up and establishing the people, places, and things that will become important in this final stretch. Even then, the director and the screenwriting team, Danny Strong and Peter Craig, make sure the audience is fully aware of the how and why of it all. Never mind that Mockingjay – Part 1 broke down how the resistance utilizes propaganda in their war against the Capitol. We get this here in Part 2 in full detail. Never mind that the "love triangle" of this story has clearly taken a backseat to the unusual but awesome action scattered throughout. Because it's been set up at the beginning of the series there must be a payoff, even if this subplot only has a few lines and feels like a prerequisite just to give Liam Hemsworth something important to do.
The story could have easily been streamlined. Strong and Craig could have cut down on the unnecessary exposition and minor subplots included to stretch the Mockingjay novel to two films. Some of these even get short-changed including Gwendolyn Christie in a "don't blink or you'll miss her" role as a resistance member in District 2. Another aspect not fully realized – but terrifying enough – is the idea of Mutts, subterranean-dwelling creatures that attack and rip apart anyone unfortunate enough to encounter them.
These creatures, though not explained well enough, are effective in Mockingjay – Part 2 due to the fact that Francis Lawrence is at the helm. The director who pulled off emotion in the face of CG monsters in I Am Legend does what he does best this time around. At the very least the CG is on par with the emotion this time around. If there's one aspect that Mockingjay – Part 2 pulls off exceptionally well it's in the suspense necessary in realizing the moments of intense, sci-fi war that make up the bulk of the film. Whether on the broken, city streets of the Capitol or the dark and dangerous labyrinth of the tunnels running underneath it, Lawrence and company continuously barrage the audience with the action and excitement that has made The Hunger Games such a successful franchise.
The subtext of war and how certain elements of such are handled is what makes this film – and this series – a step above the competition. Propaganda aside, Mockingjay – Part 2 executes war in a realistic and thematically dark manner. Lawrence often injects confusion on the battlefield. Bombs drop without an understanding of why or even who is doing the attacking. Action sequences play out with little explanation of their reasoning or outcome. While you may be growing tired of seeing Katniss wake up in a hospital with someone explaining to her what has just occurred, the realism added to the battle scenes outweighs any drawbacks it brings in terms of structure.
That is really the only issue to be found in Mockingjay – Part 2, the pacing problems that inherently come from splitting a novel into two films. All of the acting is on perfect point, Sutherland finally rising above the subdued, sinister smirk to deliver a truly memorable performance, something that finally makes President Snow a truly memorable antagonist. The action abounds and the deeper meanings of war and defiance in the face of tyranny arise. All the points in The Hunger Games reach their natural conclusion here with stylish and enjoyable results. On its own Mockingjay – Part 2 may not be the self-contained epic at the outset, but it succeeds in bringing finality to what will likely go down as one of the great film franchises of all time.