Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 showed us that war can be as much about propaganda and politicking as it is about death and destruction. Unfortunately, this made for an unexciting, albeit engaging film. Part 2, and the final entry in the Hunger Games franchise, shows that all of this political maneuvering does pay off in the end.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 jumps right in where Part 1 left us. There is no reintroduction of characters or plot points, which will be disorienting for audiences who have forgotten any part of the previous film. It is as if the filmmakers knew most people will be watching these two back-to-back streaming after release and they did not want to needlessly interrupt these future hypothetical viewers. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is safely in District 13, though he has endured severe psychological torture and is so filled with rage he thinks of nothing but killing Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss, still very much in love with both Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) wants to put an end to the war against the Capital and kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
In keeping with the consistency from Part 1, Part 2 starts with little action and lots of talking. The film does a good job of showing the gravity of their actions. After all, an entire country’s citizens are at stake in this war and many have already died. Katniss once again shows that she is the textbook reluctant figurehead for the rebellion, and the film crew who follows her makes sure to capture her every move. While her speeches and publicity are honestly intriguing, the focus on the business and strategy of war will bore audiences who are looking for more action.
In the second half of the film, as all of the carefully laid plans are finally getting put to use, the action absolutely picks up. Katniss fights alongside both Peeta and Gale for the rebels through the districts and finally to the looming Capital itself. The excitement of the first two Hunger Games returns for a moment when the rebels discover the city is saturated in booby traps, designed by the game makers who first tortured Katniss and Peeta in the earlier hunger games. The traps, or “pods” as they call them, are the most exciting part of the film. It is impossible to know what may lurk around each corner. Knowing the bloodthirst of the pods’ designers adds to the caution exercised by the rebels as they try to make their way to Snow.
The film is dark, not visually but spiritually. As Katniss continues to come to terms with what it is to be a leader, she is repeatedly reminded of how little the Capital values human life. These violent exercises were mostly off screen in previous films, shown briefly through news footage or montage, are now on full display in Mockingjay, Part 2. We see bodies fall again and again, and we also see the Katniss reminding the rebels not to demonize the enemy. She is one of the only people in the rebellion to have ever befriended a citizen of the Capital, for instance Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and she fights to remind the more eager members of her unit of their humanity.
Mockingjay, Part 2 is not nearly as grand visually as the first two films, but it is a marked improvement from Part 1. The world around them is crumbling and looks gray and disheveled to match. While this is to be expected, it does make me yearn for the festive and elaborate world of the Capital from the first film. However, that lush world from the past is now a distant memory for both the audience and for the people of Panem.
Lawrence delivers an expectedly spot-on performance here as the emotionally torn yet really pissed-off Katniss, but the best surprise of the film was Hutcherson. One of the weaker links in the previous three films, he was able to truly rise to the occasion and convey Peeta’s mental instability with great nuance and maturity. Sutherland as Snow enjoyed chewing the scenery around him and looks like he is having such fun. He makes the villain that you love to hate a bad guy but never godlike, despite his disgusted attitude towards the citizens.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is necessarily dark and disturbing. The film makes the characters, and through them the audience, confront their attitudes towards war, humanity, and perseverance. Watching this film just days after the attacks in Paris made me realize that we share far more than I am comfortable admitting with Panem. If it is the job of fiction to turn a mirror back onto ourselves, then Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is successful in that vein. As mere entertainment, its lack of action left us slightly bored, but contemplative.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Film Length: 136 minutes
Release Date: November 20, 2015