Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Like most people, I was a little skeptical when they split the final HUNGER GAMES book into two films, however, director Francis Lawrence (THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE) delivers a powerful conclusion with MOCKINGJAY PART 2 and it is arguably his most impressive directorial effort of the series. The movie opens with Katniss recovering from Peeta’s brutal attack on her, and while she is weak, she is still very determined. The brainwashed state of Peeta has only fueled her fire and she has just one thing in mind, getting to The Capitol and killing President Snow. However, her first outing puts her right in the president’s crosshairs and she is promptly shot by a loyalist. Back in a hospital in District 13, Alma Coin wants her out of the fight and intends to use her as a propaganda machine which, of course, Katniss will have no part of. Disregarding orders, Katniss heads back to the front line and Coin, realizing she can’t keep her out of the fight, teams her up with other notable faces of the rebellion as a just behind the lines propaganda squad. Now, as they head down the boobytrapped streets of The Capitol, Katniss will search for an opening to slip away and hunt down Snow, hell bent on ending the nightmare her life has become since she first joined the hunger games.
Out of all The Hunger Games movies, this one has the most distinct directorial style. Francis Lawrence heavily focuses on the emotional state of the characters, utilizing frequent close ups to draw attention to their current feelings and encouraging the audience to engage and empathize with them. This style relies heavily on the actors being able to tap into the emotions of their characters, thankfully that was not a difficult task for the cast, in part, I’m sure, because they’ve been with these characters through multiple films. Another solid part of the production was how the action was handled. The action sequences are fast paced and while they use some quick cuts, it usually isn’t so overdone that you can’t follow what is going on. As we’ve been with all these characters for at least a movie or more, every action encounter comes off more intense as loved ones are lost and lives are torn apart by the horrors of war. This fast paced intensity paired with character attachment ratchets up the audience’s engagement and draws us more deeply into the film. I quite liked the special effects in the film; mutated hounds, devious traps, and intricate facial makeup are all handled with realistic precision, and while some of the blood looked unrealistic, the bruising effects seemed perfectly accurate.
The story was obviously going to deviate from the book, but I liked how they maintained the overall themes of the latter half of the novel, particularly the rehabilitation of Peeta from his brainwashing and the conflict between Katniss and both President Snow and Alma Coin. These themes played a central role in the film and drove the narrative, which kept the movie on point and provided the necessary resolution to the franchise. I was a little conflicted with how they handled the film’s conclusion. While it is important to focus on Katniss and Peeta, they took time to give some closure to supporting characters like Effie and Annie, but failed to do any wrapping up for Johanna, Cressida, and Pollux, which I found somewhat disappointing. For a film that got so much right, I felt that the somewhat rushed conclusion could have been fleshed out more, particularly as this movie only clocks in at a little over two hours so there was plenty of time to add a little more to the ending.
The performances in MOCKINGJAY PART 2 are among the best in the franchise, not only with the leads, but across the board. Reprising the role of Katniss Everdeen for the final time is Jennifer Lawrence (X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST) and after four films she is masterful in the role. Lawrence bends her considerable talents to bringing Katniss’ frustration, fear, and anger to life and she is so evocative with her expressions that even if there was no dialogue, you would still know exactly what her character was feeling, which was awe inspiring. Josh Hutcherson (ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST) returns once again as Peeta Mellark, and it was nice to see him have a wider range with the role this time. As Peeta has been brainwashed, he is angry and crazed, but as he recovers he is fragile and confused. This variance is a departure from the earlier films and Hutcherson is completely believable every step of the way, delivering a stark portrayal of a man lost in himself desperately trying to sort out reality from fiction. By far the most captivating performance was Donald Sutherland (TV’s CROSSING LINES) as President Snow. Sutherland delivers a subtle yet mesmerizing portrayal as the cruel ruler of Panem, maintaining a calm demeanor through every circumstance, and enjoying the challenge of a rival as formidable as Katniss; he steals scenes and elevates this movie to more than a mere blockbuster. Jena Malone (INHERENT VICE) delivers a viciously angry performance as Johanna Mason, a hunger games victor who was imprisoned and tortured with Peeta. Johanna is angry at everything that has transpired and how she has been used and discarded, and Malone is outstanding as this angry, bitter woman bristling with contempt; she easily steals her scenes and leaves you wanting more. Lastly, reprising his role as the mute Pollux is Elden Henson (Netflix’ DAREDEVIL). Despite not having dialogue, Henson delivers an emotional performance that perfectly encapsulates not only the horrors of war, but the atrocities of the dystopian Panem, it was most impressive.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 is a fitting end to the franchise. The production is wonderful, the performances powerful, and while the story falters a bit at the conclusion, everything leading up to it is great. Fans of the series should definitely see this in theaters as it is one of the most impressive directorial efforts of the franchise.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
And if you missed: