The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review
Based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novels, The Hunger Games series is an unusually dark teen franchise. Trend-setting, it has since generated a further appetite for similar dystopian stories such as Divergent or The Maze Runner. Its much-awaited final instalment, Mockingjay Part 2 is a taut meditation on the nature of warfare. And while it makes for a thoughtful watch, it is not an entirely satisfying conclusion to the series.
Part 2 is very much designed as a second half to the first Mockingjay, rather than a distinct sequel. It starts abruptly, the camera focusing on the neck wounds of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) – injuries inflicted on her by her friend and love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Peeta’s mind has been addled during his capture in the Capitol - the home of Panem’s authoritarian government - and he is now convinced that Katniss is his enemy.
Eager to do something to take her mind off his altered state, Katniss asks to be sent back to the fighting lines. In District 2, she witnesses an attack on a weapons arsenal led by Commander Lyme (Gwendoline Christie), and is shocked by her allies’ cavalier attitude to killing civilians. Her good friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is helping design weapons to the same end: targeting non-combatants. The armies of President Snow - the leader of Panem – don’t hold back in their tactics, and they all argue in reply to Katniss’ protests. These moments lift the film above the usual teen franchise fare, bringing to the fore very real questions about the ethics of war.
This aside, these first twenty minutes of running time echo Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss yet again making another propaganda speech to the cameras of Cressida (Natalie Dormer) in order to rally resistance against the Capitol. This comes across as repetitive, and it’s difficult not to wince at her idealism and grand gestures.
Thankfully - and this saves the film - director Francis Lawrence gets other characters to say so. Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), another Hunger Games victor, mocks Katniss for her earnest grandiloquence; and in moments later on, the film derides District 13’s over-dramatic publicity.
Following the battle in District 2, Katniss escapes to the confines of the Capitol, against the express orders of District 13 leader President Coin (Julianne Moore). With a small team, she makes her way through the city, with the aim of getting to the mansion of President Snow first, and kill him. Donald Sutherland continues in his superb streak as Snow - his character the perfect example of a wisdom gone inhumane. Snow’s manners are so measured and polite that it is a struggle to hate him entirely - yet he is dominated by terrifying cruelty.
The goal of revenge fits uneasily with a main character who had, until now, been idealistic and morally upright. Writers Danny Strong and Peter Craig appear to struggle with it as well: Peeta, Katniss, Gale and others seek to justify the plan to themselves through long-winded conversations, declaiming, for instance, that the deaths of their friends and family will be given meaning through Snow’s. It sounds off. The film also leaves no space for moments of relief, with the audience sometimes being served lines of dialogue so dark that they provoke laughter. Some, but not all, seem intentional.
There is no room for romance either - Katniss is so isolated by her burden that she remains at a distance from everyone. While the film is excellent in showing the damages that PTSD wreck on her, it’s disappointing to see her relationships with Gale and Peeta, which had been built-up throughout the series, resolve with a whimper.
The series of battles and challenges in the Capitol are skilfully directed - the tension never falters. Lawrence (the director) makes a point of paralleling the war with the Games: the Capitol has been planted with traps, which one activated, set off Game-like adversaries. A sequence in the claustrophobic sewers of the Capitol, in which the team are made to face one of these trials, is intensely gut-wrenching.
The twist ending matches that of the novel, and is well executed. However, the epilogue itself is not entirely satisfying - partly because we’re not given many good moments among the characters to enjoy - and also because it is rather cliché.
Overall, Mockingjay Part 2 is a transfixing watch, and raises profound questions about the ethics of warfare. It’s only a pity that its ending is not a fully rewarding conclusion to the series.