The final installment of the Hunger Games films, based on the enormously popular trilogy by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games, 2008; Catching Fire, 2009; Mockingjay, 2010), follows its source material faithfully and takes us right to the front lines of conflict at the Capitol. Bringing the sprawling dystopian story to a close, Mockingjay, Part 2 again immerses audiences in Collins’ world and successfully packs in elements of sf, action, and romance into its two-hour run time. As a stand-alone film, it falters in parts and suffers throughout from dismally poor lighting and repetitive action sequences. But while it may not be a perfect sendoff for Katniss, director Francis Lawrence deserves credit for delivering an otherwise admirable wrap-up to the filmed saga that got its start in The Hunger Games three years ago.
Picking up directly where Mockingjay, Part 1 ended, hero Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her (ambiguously defined) love interest. But Peeta isn’t the person she knew before. Brain addled after being subjected to torture and treatments of “tracker jacker” venom, he has been reprogrammed by Dictator President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to both hate and fear her. Now interested in killing more than kissing, he is an unstable and potentially volatile force.
Without the benefit of the book’s rich internal monologue, it
can be hard to read the nuances in her character’s anguish.
Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), president of District 13, harbors her own nefarious intentions for Katniss, who is now “the Mockingjay,” a poster child for Coin’s plans and the reluctant protagonist of the rebellion. For Coin, Katniss’ life holds the same value whether she’s alive or dead—although, perhaps if she were a martyr, as opposed to a living figurehead, she would be easier to control. Moore plays the role of rebel PR mastermind with believably cool aplomb, and Lawrence’s Katniss is wise to think twice about her role as a propaganda tool. Eventually, of course, she returns to her rogue ways as she sets out to assassinate Snow herself.
Where the headstrong stubbornness of Katniss was once mixed with an almost equal dose of naiveté, she is now a changed woman. She’s been subjected to heartache and horror in equal measure, and deserves a nice retirement plan, but that can’t come until Snow is dead and the fates of those she loves are secure. She may be fighting for the people of Panem on the surface, but she is really fighting for herself. Lawrence’s depiction of her inner turmoil is somewhat muted; in a plot bereft of humor, the weight of her situation occasionally overburdens her performance. Without the benefit of the book’s rich internal monologue, it can be hard to read the nuances in her character’s anguish. The core conflict between Katniss and the two men in her life (Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale Hawthorne) brings softer components of her personality to the fore, but the real story remains rooted in warfare.
With the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy being divided into two films, it was always likely that Mockingjay, Part 2 would lose some of the depth the original story possessed. While Part 1 focused on the rise of Panem’s rebellion, Part 2 centers primarily on the final battle between the rebellion and the Capitol. Though the second half of the film is in fact filled with all the horror and suspense one might expect, the first half does offer encores for some of the characters we’ve known since the beginning. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket make appearances, as does the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in significant (albeit too brief) roles.
The characters that make it to the end are survivors
more than victors.
The plot itself is simple, and director Francis Lawrence utilizes the relatively minimal material to showcase a range of sensory thrills. In one particularly memorable scene, Katniss and her rebel troop are swarmed by sewer zombies—think Night of the Living Dead set in a futuristic dystopia. The film relies on similar horror-driven metaphors to expose the decadent decay of corruption that rots the Capitol. It’s a frighteningly accurate portrayal of corruption by absolute power, one that will remind some of the current political climate here in the United States.
Mockingjay was critically considered to be the weakest of the three books in the trilogy. Yet for all its (literal and metaphorical) darkness, its cinematic counterpart manages to outshine the film that led up to it, which can be found now on Hulu as well as cable TV. The characters that make it to the end are survivors more than victors, with damaged psyches and wounds that will take years to heal. They may have won the war, but we understand along with Katniss that this is a complicated victory. Her own fight will continue, likely forever.