The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The Fire Will Burn Forever

I’m not alone in stating that I was monumentally peeved late last year, when Mockingjay – Part 1 abruptly paused at what felt like the story’s midway point, with Lionsgate, deciding to take a page out of Harry Potter and Twilight’s book, splitting the film version of Mockingjay — the final chapter of author Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games — into two volumes. Thankfully, this painful, year-long commercial break has (at last) come to an end, and I can readily assure that the long awaited finale to the powerful, thought-provoking saga emerges utterly unscathed, with its serious political message still standing strong in amongst the thrilling, yet downbeat, big budget action on display. While Mockingjay – Part 1 certainly cast a watchful eye over propaganda, a tool used to entice people in to war, Mockingjay – Part 2 takes a vigorous strike at warfare itself, focusing on the tactics, ethics and heart-wrenching casualties involved when fighting an actual war.

Waiting. It's what Hunger Games fans have been doing for a year ...
Waiting. It’s what Hunger Games fans have been doing for a year …

Picking up right where the former film left off, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 sees a virtually voiceless Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), in the sterile bunkers of District 13, still bruised and battered from the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who viciously chocked Katniss at the end of the previous installment. Unable to emotionally reach the ‘conditioned’ Peeta, Katniss watches the nation of Panem slide into a full-scale war. Meanwhile, District 13’s slippery President, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) — walking a razor-thin line between savior and villain — remains busy pulling the strings behind the scenes while Katniss, warily accepting her role as the symbol of the rebellion, is wheeled out into the districts to continue her role as the figurehead of the revolution. Coin remains suspicious of Katniss’ increasingly growing power, and prefers that the Mockingjay stay more on the sidelines, a passive symbol rather than an active participant in the battle. However, it isn’t long before the two-time death-match survivor turned resistance fighter realizes that it’s going to take a lot more than ‘symbolism’ to turn the tide against the despotic Capitol, coming to terms with that fact that, to liberate the citizens of Panem and finally set things right, she must fully embrace the indomitable Mockingjay spirit.

Now, truly ‘on fire,’ Katniss resolves to seize action by leading a small group of troops through the Capitol herself, taking the fight right to President Snow’s door, for one last stand. Teaming up with uncompromising warrior Gale (Liam Hemsworth) — who has gone from being Katniss’ fresh-faced best friend and hunting partner in District 12 to a major force in the rebellion — an unhinged Peeta, recent newlywed Finnick (Sam Claflin), and the so-called ‘Squad 451’ — a unit from District 13 — Katniss sets out to storm the once-gleaming Capitol — transformed into a city of chaos and disorder, under attack by both rebels and peacekeepers — with a covert, semi-suicidal, mission to assassinate President Snow. Having become increasingly obsessed with outwitting and destroying Katniss, Snow still believes he’s playing an ‘obsessive game,’ but Katniss is no longer a pawn in his (or anyone else’s) contest. With the fight coming to its climax and the Districts united for the very first time, tomorrow itself is on the line. Though for Katniss, what awaits — a minefield of mortal traps, dangerous enemies, and moral choices — will challenge her on every level (both physically and mentally), more so than any arena she’s ever faced before, even the Hunger Games themselves.

J-Law's hungry for action!
J-Law’s hungry for action!

With fans and novel enthusiasts claiming that Suzanne Collins’ concluding book felt awfully rushed (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never read the text), director Francis Lawrence — giving birth to every Hunger Games flick, bar the 2012 original — along with writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong — having previously penned the screenplay to Mockingjay – Part 1 — have done a wonderful job in expanding and really fleshing out the storyline, from page to screen, allowing the narrative to progress slightly more naturally than it did in its paperback counterpart; I guess the decision to split Mockingjay into two parts wasn’t so bad after all. Building on the momentum of each previous cinematic episode, Mockingjay – Part 2 (not straying too far from its source material), reaches a ‘fever pitch,’ in terms of both emotion and action, bringing Katniss full circle from an innocent, distressed young girl caught in a dystopian nightmare, to headlining the charge that could forever restore her collapsing nation.

Make no mistake, Mockingjay – Part 2, the defining chapter of the global motion picture phenomenon, is a grim, cynical and layered affair; a bit to dark to sit up on the pop-corn blockbuster mantelpiece, but it’s a gripping, fitting and, above all, satisfying conclusion nonetheless. The film openly tackles an assortment of contentious topics, from political dishonesty and corruptness to class segregation, scare-mongering propaganda, ideologies at odds, combat and even post-traumatic stress disorder; it’s a weighty sit through. A triumphant achievement in filmmaking, every facet of Mockingjay – Part 2 is top shelf, from the imposing post-modern European inspired production design by Philip Messina to the rousing score by composer James Newton Howard, with aesthetic consistency maintained on all four films, thanks to the craftsmanship of the zealous behind-the-scenes crew, who kept returning to the project time and time again — now that’s dedication! Besides simply falling into the category of ‘mainstream’ entertainment, Mockingjay – Part 2 is also a commanding slice of social commentary, so influential, that it might just inspire today’s youngsters to participate in politics or perhaps even rally in support of a better and fairer future for generations to come; this is, without a doubt, an event film handmade for the post 9/11 era.

For those who felt mildly disappointed with Mockingjay – Part 1 — a movie more focused on the early rumblings of war over anything else — which many considered to be either too slow (pacing wise), too stuffed with filler or devoid of any ‘real’ action, you’ll be happy to know that this follow-up offers the right amount of combat and conflict to whet the appetite; even so, it does take a while to get started. But take note, the film reaches its theoretical ‘action’ climax pretty early on in its third act, which means that the finale is more fixated on dealing with the aftermath of the direct assault on the Capital rather than being a conventional decisive clash between two reviled enemies.

'I've got what you knead.'
‘I’ve got what you knead.’

With Squad 451 headed into the Capitol — only a few steps behind the impending attack — determined to take down President Snow no matter the cost, Mockingjay – Part 2 brings about some genuinely heart-pounding moments; full-scale action scenes on a level beyond the ingeniously manufactured sieges of the Hunger Games arenas seen prior — though, don’t get too excited, as Mockingjay – Part 2 isn’t as action-packed as say, Catching Fire. With a large number of ‘pods’ (hidden booby traps that, when triggered, unleash deadly arsenal) planted in and around the crumbling Capitol — some of which seem ludicrously set-up, allowing for far too easy of an escape — the foreboding line, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games,’ which Finnick slyly utters to Katniss — coining their last hurrah as an ‘unofficial’ Game — is sure to please ‘Tributes’ who grumbled that Mockingjay – Part 1 was a Hunger Games film that featured no actual Games. There’s a nerve-racking sequence where our heroes attempt to outrun a wave of menacing toxic sludge threatening to engulf them, a subterranean showstopper that sees Katniss and her allies kick some serious butt against a horde of monstrous mutant ‘mutts,’ and an explosive confrontation right outside Snow’s manor — enough action for you? Surprisingly, this is the first time we see large-scale activity take place in the streets of the Capitol, with the once lavishly glittering metropolis now a shadow of its former self, erupting in wartime pandemonium and turmoil.

Being so late in the game, there are only a handful of new players introduced, most of which don’t really make a lasting impression. Game of Thrones (2011) regular Gwendoline Christie is wasted in her one scene as the mighty Commander Lyme, a rebellion leader and former Hunger Games champion from District 2 — though her brief cameo does bring about a notably thoughtful discussion of the ‘rights and wrongs’ of killing innocent bystanders during war — while Tigris (Eugenie Bondurant), the surgically altered Capitol furrier, who hides Katniss and the rebels in her fashion store, stands out as being oddly fascinating, particularly from a visual standpoint.

The remaining cast, clearly comfortable in their iconic roles — most of whom have embodied these characters for all four films now — deliver excellent performances all round. The Academy Award winning Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games (2012), brings her accessible raw talent, striking presence and undeniable energy to the project once again, giving us the series’ best Katniss Everdeen, balancing guilt against a righteous fury, with Katniss yearning for peace over her craving for vengeance. Peeta Mellark’s flipping to-and-fro — from enemy to ally — can become rather tiresome, though Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia (2007), relishes the chance to play a number of challenging beats, an opportunity male front men don’t usually get in more typical Hollywood pictures. Rounding out the love triangle, Liam Hemsworth, The Dressmaker (2015), is honest — exposing some real humanity — as Gale Hawthorne, who comes to terms with his unresolved feelings for Katniss and finally confronts Peeta, with the pair ultimately connecting over their mutual feelings for the Mockingjay.

'I bet ya I can hit that target before the presales system melts.'
‘I bet ya I can hit that target before the presales system melts.’

Elsewhere, Jena Malone, Sucker Punch (2011), brings a certain unmatched feistiness to Johanna Mason, who’s now in the throes of post-traumatic confusion, learning to embrace her newfound freedom; Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), delivers his usual gallant boyish charm as Finnick Odair, who, at long last, is reunited with his one true love, Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), though still chooses to remain loyal to the uprising and committed to Katniss’ cause; while the beautiful Natalie Dormer, from HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011), is given more to do this time around as guerrilla filmmaker Cressida, finding herself at the forefront of some major action sequences. Onto franchise regulars, Woody Harrelson, Zombieland (2009), is solid as per usual in his role as former victor Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’ savvy mentor and closest confidant; Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect (2012), puts on a straight face as Katniss’ exuberant, outrageously fashionable escort Effie Trinket, a character frequently used to bring levity to proceedings; and lastly, Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job (2003), chews it up one final time as the condescending and inhumane President Snow.

Special mention goes out to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote (2005), who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, with Mockingjay – Part 2 marking the last film in the Oscar-winner’s illustrious career. Though, with the actor having passed away on February 2nd 2014, Plutarch’s presence is missing in several key scenes. The most clear indication of Hoffman’s absence comes towards the film’s conclusion, an alleged scene in which Plutarch was supposed to console Katniss; this moment has since been rewritten, with Plutarch’s words incorporated into a letter that’s relayed to our heroine by Harrelson’s Haymitch — a fitting and touching salute to the celebrated performer.

While it’s evident that director Francis Lawrence has translated much of the scope, scale and emotional gravitas of the second and third books brilliantly, he fumbles ever-so-slightly in Mockingjay – Part 2, as in amongst the countless bloodless deaths, one of the more significant and tragic fatalities of the series is downplayed, in turn, depriving it of its hard-hitting impact, with the moment ultimately failing to pack a heartier punch. Sure Jennifer Lawrence tries to make up for this slip-up in one of the film’s very last scenes — where Katniss’ anger and rage finally reach boiling point — but it’s all a little too late if you ask me.

Dressed For Success
Dressed For Success

Mockingjay – Part 2 retroactively improves every entry before by presenting a new contextual window in which to view each prior installment, certainly making this culminating chapter the most involved in the franchise, solidifying this female-centric saga as, quite simply, the best YA film on offer; it’s a story for the ages. With the entire Hunger Games ‘quadrilogy’ coming to a close, Mockingjay – Part 2 is a fully immersive cinematic experience, but don’t expect it to deliver that predictable or traditional ‘happy ending,’ giving us a gloomy, moving, yet oddly gratifying conclusion in its place — consider the expression, ‘no gain without sacrifice.’ Heck, you’ll be on the edge of your seat, cheering for the hero’s to prevail, growing to know and love these characters dearly, watching them mature over the past four years and having been so invested in their plight.

My final thoughts venture into ‘spoiler territory,’ so do proceed with caution. Although having one too many ending, the film’s epilogue — set a vague number of years in the future — really hits home and leaves a lasting impression, pretty much summing up the trilogy’s depth and degree. Out in a lush, fiery, sunset swathed field, Katniss murmurs to one of her newborn children, ‘there are much worse games to play,’ an evoking phrase that can be interpreted in multiple ways; my reading sees it shrewdly shine a light on the fickleness of human nature, the costs of war, the misuse of tragedy and violence for entertainment, and the hazards of losing one’s individuality in tyrannical times. This motto could suggest that for Katniss — who’s perhaps suffering from depression — and Peeta too for that matter, overcoming their trauma and personal demons, implanted by the Capitol, may ultimately be a tougher road than conquering the ‘stadium’ itself, implying that the two may never fully recover from the pain, suffering and horror experienced while participating in the Hunger Games, though the pair can keep working to create a better world, where those kind of events are long-ago distant memories — profound stuff indeed. So, when all is said and done, remember, ‘May the odds be ever in your favor!’

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia