Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everedeen to close out The Hunger Games film series. So far, it’s been the superior franchise in a sea of “young adult” sameness. Can the finale deliver? Here’s The Snooty Ushers’ review.
NB: This review contains some spoilers for The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay Part 1. Also, I have not read the books they are based on, so this is a review based solely on the film.
So, the bad stuff first – Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t really work as a standalone film. After all, as the name suggests it is the second half of one story, which itself is the concluding part of a trilogy. If you’re not familiar with the characters by now, you don’t get much chance to catch up.
With that in mind, Mockingjay Part 2 is a very impressive piece of work. When The Hunger Games first came to the big screen in 2012, my interest was piqued by the supposed similarity to Battle Royale, the Japanese film that has the government putting one randomly chosen class of students in an annual fight to the death. I wasn’t alone in that belief, and even the briefest google trawl will bring up a haul of articles about the similarities.
The difference however, was that the Hunger Games was only ever a starting point. It was always the effect that the Games had on it’s survivors (both those in the game, and those in the Districts) that drove these films. Both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games use the idea of ritual, enforced combat to divide, terrify, and suppress rebellion in a Dystopian society, but The Hunger Games film actually shows what this has done to the society.
And that’s another point which raises The Hunger Games above the other “Young Adult”, divided-future, post-rebellion/cataclysm films. Divergent and The Maze Runner have their strengths, but the producer of The Hunger Games have managed to create a world that feels real. The capital has split the districts to such an extent that their distrust of each other outweighs their hatred of their oppressors. We understand the political machinations – and the machinery – that keeps the government in power, instead of the divisions placed on the society feeling perfunctory.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 picks up in the immediate aftermath of Part 1, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in hospital after the attack by the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She then joins in the planning of an attack on the Capitol’s weapon supply, which is being planned by Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and another Hunger Games winner Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright). Katniss is uneasy with the tactics being proposed, and argues for a better solution to reduce the number of civilian casualties. An attempt to make a propaganda film (shot by the team of Natalie Dormer, Wes Chatham, and Elden Henson) of Katniss welcoming the civilians and recruiting them to the Rebellion goes wrong and results in her being shot. This leads her to go to the rebellion’s leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and adviser Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and volunteering to go to the Capitol and assinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Coin and Heavensbee remind Katniss of her symbolic importance to the rebellion, but during a wedding she is informed that there is a medical supply vessel that she can stow away on. This leads to Katniss and a small unit of elite fighters moving through the city, avoiding the “pods” – a series of traps laid by President Snow and his gamemakers.
What follows is basically a war film. The group move street by street, and although there are some satisfyingly over the top traps – an entire underground train station being destroyed was a highlight for someone who wasted long enough waiting for the Metro around Tyneside in my previous life – this feels as realistic as any modern blockbuster. The type of teenage audience this film will mostly attract is unlikely to have seen a film that pays this much attention to the minutiae of conflict. Characters die. They just die. Chains of command have to be followed.
Katniss is the hero of this story, but she has to deal with self-doubt. She doesn’t know who to trust, or even if she is doing the right thing. Jennifer Lawrence has grown into a superstar over the course of these films, and her performance here is great. She brings a strength and intelligence to a role, and makes Katniss Everdeen one of the great cinema characters.
The slower parts of Mockingjay Part 1 are paid off so well here, and casting so many famous faces gives the supporting characters an instant depth as the plot starts to motor along. Hoffman and Moore are both great as the morally dubious Coin and Heavensbee (did anyone get a Blair/Campbell leader/spin doctor vibe?) and Donald Sutherland chews the scenery as Preisdent Snow. Woody Harrelson has a great time as Haymitch Abernathy, and Elizabeth Banks has little more than a cameo as Effie Trinket.
I’d also like to mention Josh Hutcherson, who gives a surprisingly good performance as Peeta, something I genuinely thought was beyond him. He may have a decent future as more than just a pretty face.
As I mentioned at the start, Mockingjay Part 2 is a very impressive piece of work. The Hunger Games have always had a darker undertone than many other films aimed at teenagers. The Hunger Games had to cut some shots of blood and splatter to ensure its 12A rating. Catching Fire had a scene where a rebel was executed by gunshot to the head just offscreen. Mockingjay Part 1 was an exploration of the value of propaganda in war. And Mockingjay Part 2 continues with the grim, gritty world view, even as they start to wrap up a billion dollar film franchise.
The Hunger Games is one of the best film franchises. The world created was so rich, the story deep, and the pay-offs rewarding. When it comes to reboots and remakes I tend to be able to take them or leave – but I would be very surprised if Lionsgate isn’t making plans for more stories in this universe. A TV series set in District 12 to tell the story of Katniss before the games? Or how Snow became President? Yes please.
Mockingjay Part 2 is a top film. The Hunger Games is, for this Snooty Usher at least, the best young adult film franchise around.
A definite recommendation.