After nearly four years and as many films, the Hunger Games “trilogy” has come to an end. So huge was the climax that, as is tradition with young adult book series adaptations (see Twilight Saga and Harry Potter), it took not one but two films to contain it. After leaving filmgoers starving for more (see what I did there?) last year, were the odds ever in the favor of Part 2?
With the war escalating, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a Section 13 strike team into the Capital, intent on assassinating President Snow (Donald Sutherland), all the while everything she holds dear—including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—hangs in the balance.
First, let me apologize, Giga readers, for not publishing this review sooner. Normally I’d see a film like this during opening weekend, but I waited so I could see it with my little sister when she came home for the holidays. She loves the films, and I wanted to experience it with her.
Second, I think I should give brief thoughts on the films and books before I continue, especially since this is the second half of a what’s essentially one long movie. I didn’t see the first film until I’d read the book by Suzanne Collins, for which I was glad. I honestly think the books shouldn’t be considered “young adult.” In my opinion, they’re excellent dystopian science fiction that just happens to have a teenage girl as the protagonist.
That being said, I was actually slightly disappointed with the first film. It is certainly well-acted and well-directed, but I felt that certain elements lack punch compared to the novel because of the greater amount of world-building that was done in the latter. The ending (where Katniss and Peeta eat poison berries) in particular is far less dramatic than it is in the novel. However, it hits the right tone and definitely replicates the spirit of the book. I was happy to see the subsequent films improve on the first, cutting less from the source material with each entry. My only major complaint, however, is that there is far less foreshadowing for the revelation that Section 13 existed than in the novels, so when Mockingjay Part 1 starts at that fabled location, it seems to come out of nowhere. Regardless, Part 1 is easily the best film of the series at the time, ending on the perfect cliffhanger with a tortured and brainwashed Peeta almost murdering Katniss.
While Part 2 has more action sequences and set pieces than Part 1, it’s still not a glorification of violence or war. Some complained this made both halves slow and plodding. I, for one, was never bored. I knew that this was a film that wanted to ponder ideas and show the ravages of war. Ask any veteran and he’ll tell you, “War is Hell.” Collins pulled no punches with her characters, and neither does the film. Every character is either broken or killed. The novel, in most respects, has a very un-Hollywood ending. There are few, if any, happy moments until that ending, and even then they are realistically tainted by tragedy. Mind you, that brokenness is a bit stronger in the novel, but it still comes through loud and clear in the film.
Yet despite showing the horrors of war, the film, like the novel, isn’t strictly antiwar. War is ugly, but it is often necessary. Those who wish to wage it, especially if for a just cause, must be willing to pay the price. This is a difficult balance to strike. In a time when war-weariness seems to be on the rise, this film dares to say there is a time and a place for a “just war.” Yet it never glorifies it. In fact, Section 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore) uses tactics that are arguably as despicable, if not more so, than that of the cruel Snow. I applaud the filmmakers for unflinchingly exploring this idea.
Media has always been a huge theme in this series. The focus has shifted from being a criticism of reality television as the brutal opiate of the masses, to its use as a propaganda tool in wartime. Both Section 13 and the Capital use state-controlled media to perpetuate a mixture of truth and falsehood, though proportions obviously differ. This is timely in an age when information is rampantly available, yet most sources are biased. Deciphering the truth in the cacophony is an almost impossible task. This is seen most strongly toward the end of the film when Snow tells Katniss it was Coin, not him, who ordered the bomb drop that killed her sister and hundreds of Capital children. She refused to believe him, a man who had lied to the masses, but he reminds her that they’d promised never to lie to each other. This forces Katniss to see Coin in a different light—and in the end, assassinate her instead of Snow.
Mockingjay Part 2 is no lightweight in terms of acting. While every actor gives a good performance, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who, unsurprisingly, steals the show. Katniss is a complicated character: a young woman of intermingled strength and weakness. Lawrence is at her best near the film’s end when Katniss has returned to her ruined home in Section 12 and finds her sister’s beloved cat, who had always hated her. She tells it Prim is gone, but when the cat ignores her, she has a breakdown. She yells at the cat, throwing dishes that narrowly miss it, until finally embracing the feline, which no longer hisses at her. Lawrence proves once again why she won an Oscar.
Becoming more common in many films these days, the special effects are a mix of practical and CGI, though it seems to favor the former. Even when Katniss and her troupe are accosted zombie-like Mutts, the creatures are CGI only when necessary, which adds to the horror. Most things feel “real” and “present,” even when it’s a CGI hovercraft flying overhead. The special effects are used not as a spectacle unto itself, but as a means of telling the story. That’s an uncommon thing in modern cinema.
Mockingjay Part 2 closes out a thought-provoking yet exciting series of films in the most appropriate way possible: with a faithful adaptation of the final novel that gives the story time to breathe while pondering its big ideas.
Final Grade: A