The final installment in what is basically the only good Young Adult film series, post-Harry Potter, is about to hit theaters. The Hunger Games franchise has always been strange to me. I really appreciate what they are trying to do, I think they are rich in big ideas, subtext and theming, and they represent something unique in terms being one of, if not the, most political blockbusters ever made. However, of the three films released so far, I only love the second one. I think the first one is very good, but Mockingjay Part 1, I found to be a dull and underwhelming sit. Certainly not without their merit, but going into Mockingjay Part 2, it’s hard to tell exactly what to expect, especially considering I haven’t read the books.
Following the events of Mockingjay Part 1, the nation of Panem finds itself in a revolutionary war against the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself at the center stage as a symbol used to rally everyone against the evil empire while she leads a group of her closest allies to The Capitol, in order to take out Snow once and for all, but it appears he already has something in store for them.
When I talked about Mockingjay Part 1, I made it fairly clear that I thought the adaptation should not have been split into two films. And unfortunately, Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t do anything to justify the split. I like Part 2 a bit more than Part 1, but they both have big problems. Some of those issues are similar and some are different. The biggest problem that continues from Part 1 is the pacing. Part 1 had really bad pacing in the way they essentially stretched an act and a half to over two hours. Part 2 has similar pacing problems. Many moments in the film drag way beyond the point of effectiveness, and while more interesting things are happening, they don’t have the same gut punch that a tighter screenplay would give. In a strange way, the film also feels oddly rushed at parts. Certain plot developments happen very quickly, and sometimes with little explanation. Certain moments, especially later on don’t have the impact that they are clearly striving for because the times when they could have slowed down a bit to explore something, they don’t. For example, a minor, but important character dies around the beginning of the final act. However, it is a sudden development, and it barely gets brought up by the characters after that. There is a moment where Katniss does finally deal with it, but by the time it happens you think, “oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
These issues are what really frustrate me about Mockingjay because there is a lot of interesting ideas that the film delves into. Part 2 explores on the idea of how violence begets violence and the morally grey area that people might find themselves even if they are contributing into something as theoretically progressive like a revolution for the people. It continues to drive the propaganda themes heavily present throughout Part 1 with some moments you could draw parallels to something like the story of the US Army Ranger, Pat Tillman. The story also deals in the consequences of war and what war can do to people. There are a lot mature themes and ideas that not only Mockingjay, but the entire series, explores in many interesting and subversive ways. If only Mockingjay was a tighter film than I would be far more enthusiastic with my review of the film. It’s little issues like this that prevent the entire series, aside from Catching Fire, from being remembered as some of the all-time great works of dystopian sci-fi.
One thing I hear about Part 2 is how unrelentingly grim it is. This is partially true, but I find this to be a weird complaint since all the Hunger Games films have dealt in dark and occasionally horrific subject matter. This isn’t really that different from the other three films in that regard, though it does push the boundaries considerably in terms of what you can get away with showing in a PG-13 film. The moments of levity are few and far between, and it’s understandable considering the events that are unfolding for the characters. There aren’t a lot of chances for them to take it easy and the tone reflects that accurately.
The film continues to be very well acted by the incredible cast (with the obvious exception being the walking, talking plank of wood called Liam Hemsworth). Jennifer Lawrence delivers a subtle and nuanced performance that is full of regret, sorrow, loss and anger. Her character and her performance in these films have never disappointed and it helps makes Katniss one of the more memorable film characters in recent memory. The great supporting cast with the likes of Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks and a ton of others, also deliver really good performances with characters that they’ve clearly grown into really well. Though Mockingjay Part 2 is definitely much more focused on Katniss herself and the way she deals with the things happening around her. So, it’s basically the Jennifer Lawrence show for a vast majority of the film.
Francis Lawrence continues to make a very well crafted film with the help of an outstanding production crew. The makeup, cinematography, music, the visual effects and production design work are all really good. There are moments of genuine suspense and moments of powerful emotion, and it’s all captured with enough effectiveness from the filmmaking standpoint to counter some of the places where the screenplay couldn’t pull it off by itself. There’s obviously a lot of passion put into the film by everyone involved, which is why I’m being more tough on a film which is OK, but I know could have been great. As far as the ending is concerned, I’m not sure how to feel about it now, something about it just doesn’t fully sit right with me. I won’t give anything away, but the final few minutes feels a bit too disingenuous, at least upon first viewing.
Similar to how I felt about Mockingjay Part 1, I don’t think Part 2 is a bad film. However, it is only a minor improvement from its disappointing predecessor, and given the film is meant to be the big finale for the epic saga as promised, it doesn’t fully deliver. The film does deliver in some moments though, and when the movie works, boy howdy does it work. It remains an ambitious and admirable work that actually tries to explore into deep, relevant societal issues through smart social commentary and political allegory. Even at its weakest I will always respect and admire the Hunger Games films for what they tried to do and I will celebrate it for the moments where they genuinely achieve those goals. Even though I’m not totally enthusiastic about Mockingjay Part 2, I still think the film is fairly decent and it’s going to be a bit bittersweet not seeing another film in Suzanne Collins’ crazy world. Though considering we’re getting a Harry Potter spin-off next year with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I will not act surprised if they conjure another Hunger Games film out of nowhere. 65 / 100