“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” Review
The cinematic story of Katniss Everdeen has captured our attention and enthralled our imagination since she refused to kill her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark in the bloody arena three years ago. Her journey as an unexpected icon and unwilling symbol for revolution has all culminated into the events of Mockingjay Part 2, the conclusion of Suzanne Collins’ brilliant dystopic yet uplifting story. Unfortunately, this finale doesn’t pack quite the punch promised by its previous installments.
Though the performances are yet again spot on from the whole cast, aspects of the direction didn’t live up to expectations, whether you’ve read the books or not. Mockingjay Part 2 seems to have suffered from a lack of focus in terms of themes, tone, and overall interpretation of exactly how violent the final chapters of Katniss’ story truly are, with key moments simply being there because they should be rather than fitting the harsh tone set by the senseless killing of children by children established in the first film. However, the moments that are as volatile as they needed to be are well shot and performed, keeping Part 2 floating above the doldrums it could have sunk to, though it is clearly the weakest film in the franchise.
After her world completely shatters when Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) tries to kill her, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds a new determination to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and she offers herself up fully to the rebellion in District 13. However, as the horrors of war begin to consume her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss enters the Capitol, thrusting herself into a new kind of Hunger Games without Peeta fully by her side. As the revolution rages around her, Katniss comes face to face with death on a scale she has only begun to witness, becoming a pawn once again in a game she doesn’t wish to play, and even as her world continues to crumble, the realities of who the enemy truly is will either save her or destroy her.
Unlike the first three films, it is the amount of story as well as the uneven execution of the colossal finale to The Hunger Games that causes Mockingjay Part 2 to stumble. The film doesn’t flow as smoothly as its predecessors, and as a result, the climax is rather subdued, making the ending to the film and the series as a whole a bit unsatisfactory. Mockingjay Part 2 is meant to do a lot when it comes to character development and commenting on war in all its evil, but in order for this to happen, the underlying themes of love – mainly to do with Katniss’ complex love life as well as her devotion to her beloved sister, Prim (Willow Shields) – grief, and survival become muddled and lost in the shuffle. With the magnitude of the story being told, both in terms of amount and meaning, the film fails to find a thematic focus, jumping from one scene to the next because that is how it plays out in the book. The overall film feels flat, superficial, and noticeably lacking in the fire that burned beneath the previous films, and it’s truly a shame.
As the consummate central focus of the story, Katniss rides a rollercoaster in Part 2, but even so, it doesn’t feel as though Katniss grows and develops enough for her ending to feel satisfactory. She enters the film determined to kill Snow for revenge – for Peeta, for her home – and she exits much more of a whole woman, but her journey to that final shot feels a bit on the one note side until she faces the greatest grief she has ever had to go through. Though she sees death throughout the film in several gruesome ways, the final person she loses is meant to break her, creating even more of a shell than Peeta’s hijacking left at the end of the last film. Unfortunately for audiences and fans of the character, there isn’t much outward difference between the Katniss before the climactic death and afterwards, a piece of the character that seems to have been lost in the overwhelming amount of story to be told as Panem completes its revolution against its oppressors. Until Part 2, director Francis Lawrence has done an exceptional job of pulling those minute details out of his leading lady, but for some reason the fire that should burn from behind the eyes of the Mockingjay herself is not as bright as it could have or should have been, and it leaves the film wanting.
Despite this, however, Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress as she brings Katniss to the end of her harrowing journey. Lawrence portrays Katniss as a wounded soul from where she left the character in Part 1, and she brings a strength to her hunt for the only slice of dignity and satisfaction Katniss can cut for herself, and that is to be the one to kill Snow. Though the instances of her inner fire aren’t focused on as much as they have been before, the quiet moments when Katniss must make some of the hardest decisions she’s ever had to make are when Lawrence is at her best, the complex thoughts burning behind her steel eyes create tension even if we know what comes next. She again has great chemistry with her co-stars, Hutcherson and Hemsworth, but it is her scene with Donald Sutherland’s smarmy, spine tingling President Snow that is the most riveting and confirms why Lawrence was perfect for this role.
Josh Hutcherson once again gives a soulful, strong performance as Katniss’ rock, Peeta. Like Lawrence, Hutcherson has always understood implicitly what makes the love struck baker tick, and that fact doesn’t change with Peeta’s troubled state. Everything in Hutcherson’s performance is all about his eyes and facial expressions, every emotion Peeta battles with and gives into plays across his face masterfully, his best moments centered on his character’s very conscious want to continue to be in control of his own destiny, desiring to choose the time and method of his death given what he comes to understand has been done to him. Hutcherson plays the balance between out of control, homicidal Peeta and the sweet, soft side to this unlikely Victor with an ease inherent in every cast member of the franchise, knowing when to spit venom in Lawrence’s face, how to battle with himself in a realistic manner, and when to speak softly enough that the pain and sadness over the pieces of himself that have been taken from him are felt by all. Together, these two create great moments in which their characters can find themselves and each other again, and it’s very well done.
On the other side of the spectrum is Liam Hemsworth’s Gale, who grows further and further apart from his childhood friend as the film plays toward its end. The love story between Gale and Katniss, unfortunately, has always felt like more of an after thought cinematically than the real threat it posed to Peeta and Katniss’ relationship it should have been. This is not down to Hemsworth’s performance, however, who is given so much more to do in terms of his character pulling away from the person Katniss grew up knowing. Hemsworth taps into Gale’s brutal side for Part 2, and he does it incredibly well, portraying just the right amount of ruthless calculus to solidify how much he has changed, even if he has always carried the chip of revolution on his shoulder. The softer side of Gale has never been a problem for Hemsworth, the right amount of guilt and sorrow oozing from his performance as he realizes what the war has unleashed within him, and he has some great scenes with Lawrence as the two portray the friends’ yawning chasm brilliantly.
The secondary cast is, as always, well rounded and performs their roles very well. The film lacks a distinct amount of Woody Harrelson’s likeable version of Haymitch, but the scenes he does appear in showcase Harrelson’s talent as he perfectly balances between Haymitch’s bitter, callous side, and the humanity he has found beneath a character that could have been incredibly unpleasant to watch. Elizabeth Banks has also worked effortlessly at finding and developing a human side to the Capitolite, Effie Trinket, and Part 2 is where she truly reaps the rewards. Banks has always been strong in this role, giving Effie’s comic relief character much more depth than expected, and she continues her brilliant work in this film.
Sam Claflin and Jena Malone are each given roughly a similar amount of screen time, and they each use what they are given well. Claflin has made the cocky, suave Finnick Odair into a sweet yet strong fighter, and he gives a solid performance. Malone, as always, is wonderfully biting and pained as Johanna Mason, a role she stole our hearts with in Catching Fire with her strength and talent. It’s hard not to like either of these two, despite how little we see of them. The special effects team has done an excellent job of making sure that Philip Seymour Hoffman is still a consummate presence within the film, the CGI in the later scenes seamless. Natalie Dormer remains a steadfast performer as Cressida becomes strategist as well as propos director, and Elden Henson takes the opportunity to shine as Pollux takes the lead during the perilous, almost certainly fatal journey across the Capitol.
Though she gives a compelling performance, transforming Alma Coin from cold yet silently maternal revolutionary into the next Snow, Julianne Moore’s portrayal of the grey lady is fraught with hokiness. In composing her transition into the very thing Katniss is fighting against, director Lawrence gives Moore visual cues that draw correlations between her and Sutherland’s own performance as the evil president, but rather than sending chills down our spines at her cool rationalization of her actions and the parallels between the two leaders, Coin’s humanity that served Moore’s performance so well in Part 1 feels like a bit of a detriment this time around, her cold, unfeeling choices ultimately coming across as weaker than they should have been.
The strong points of Mockingjay Part 2 do outweigh its weaknesses, thankfully, the cast all pulling together to tell a very complex, emotional story well for their own part. As for the weak points of the film, Mockingajy Part 2 has fallen prey to the trend of breaking those final books into two films for the sake of monetary gain at the expense of the films’ quality. Granted, Mockingjay has always been the weaker story out of the trilogy, but in terms of the cinematic interpretation, what could have been a brilliantly volatile and emotionally charged ending to The Hunger Games saga fell short.
The first Mockingjay film felt a bit long, drawn out, and somewhat on the boring side due to the fact that it is representative of the first half of the story, meant to build the bridge between the tone of the first two and the war film to come. However, what Francis Lawrence has given us in Part 2 is a disjointed, up and down narrative that struggles to find its’ footing and churn our emotions amidst everything it’s attempting to do and say. Much can be speculated as to what could have been should the decision to make the finale two, two hour films been instead to develop a strong, thrilling three hour film, but what is certain is that the cast of Mockingjay Part 2 lifted this thematically overstuffed adaptation, and without them it would have been just another unsatisfactory finale to a brilliantly realized cinematic version.(3.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Lionsgate)