The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) Film Review, directed by Francis Lawrence, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Julianne Moore, Wes Chatham, Elden Henson, Stef Dawson, Robert Knepper, Eugenie Bondurant, Toby Jones, Meta Golding, Misty Ormiston, Kim Ormiston, Evan Ross, Sam Claflin, Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Michelle Forbes, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, and Stanley Tucci.
The final instalment of The Hunger Games was an exercise in wish fulfilment for its long-suffering heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence); but with enough careful-what-you-wish-for caveats to bring some much needed context to the story. Context that should be appreciated by both fans, and casual viewers, alike.
I anticipate some anticipation for this film, and I imagine quite a few people have their own ideas about what they want from this film – and maybe even out of this review. Let me just say, then, that this series has presented so much weighty material, that it would probably be easier for me to state the areas I will be steering clear of.
I will not be deconstructing the love triangle between Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). That said, the romantic element was now, more than ever, the central catalyst to the most monumental events. Hemsworth’s understated performance benefitted the most from this dynamic coming full front & center, as it has rendered him something of a non-factor, in previous installments. Josh Hutcherson’s strength has been in finding alternative forms of strength, to bring to his perpetually fawned over character. Here, he put that strength to good use, actually trying to suppress the killer he was never able to be, during the games. The time, effort, and lives spent on his behalf still made the role kind of annoying; but he sold his character well, for it. For Jennifer Lawrence, the name of the game remains pathos. Her final turn, as Katniss Everdeen, maintained what has been a consistent ability to sell whatever moment she happened to be in. This was especially useful, since much of the film’s impact came from individual moments, ranging from explosive violence, to her farewell dance with sister, Prim (Willow Shields). There was a certain grand scale to it all, making even the most cliched moments effective, within a given context.
I won’t be fawning over the supporting cast. That said, I have developed an appreciation for Haymitch & Effie. Woody Harrelson’s somber turn was something of an acknowledgement that matters were officially out of his hands. Elizabeth Banks, meanwhile, turned in her best performance as Effie. As the embodiment of keeping up appearances, as essential to the State, reconciling Effie’s removal from that role gave Banks plenty to work with. Having both characters outside their respective comfort zones also allowed them to bond a little better, adding a bitter sweet touch to their farewell performances. Jena Malone was missed as Johanna, the acerbic counterbalance to Kat’s nobility; and made up for some lost time, getting back into that role. Sadly, Johanna’s role ended at the final quest starting line; leaving Finnick as the sole veteran Victor with something to prove. After a something of a dour spell, Sam Claflin was able to restore much of Finnick’s flair, which, along with his sense of honor, made both his & Johanna’s characters breakouts of the second film.
I also won’t be going over the socio-political impact this series has had; with voices on the left & right of the spectrum taking some kind of ownership to its underlying themes. That said, I will say that I appreciated the universal nature to those themes. Suzanne Collins’ creation could just as easily be applied to any tumultuous period in history, as it likely drew inspiration from. Whether you see the tyranny of Big Government, or the excess of the 1%, the fact that either could apply speaks well of its universal approach to revolution. This final installment highlighted other themes that may not sit well with some (there were quite a few small children in the audience; but they likely play video games more adult themed than this film); but I appreciated the stark frankness with which much of them were presented.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; sometimes the good guys wear black; there is no such thing as a clean war; and every military has its conscientious objectors, once the shooting starts. Katniss’ more immediate concerns may have been something of a microcosm, by comparison; but the drivers of the larger stakes were as intent on keeping her eyes on their prize, as she was on keeping theirs on hers.
The resumption of Peeta’s role was both a check to Katniss’ obsessive focus on him, and to her becoming all action hero. She has taken a lot of physical punishment, over the course of the series, and the film makers have taken lengths to make sure we felt it all. None of that seemed to hold a candle to the gut punch of Peeta’s re-recounting of their seminal moment – and we were made to feel every bit of that, as well (again, no small thanks to Lawrence).
The macrocosmic war, between the rebels rallied around District 13 (and the Mockingjay), and the Capital had an interesting correlation to Kat’s microcosmic issues. There was as much a triangular relationship between herself & the warring heads of State, as there was between her & her suitors. Altogether, I imagined a Black Widow’s hourglass, with Presidents Snow (Donald Sutherland) & Coin (Julianne Moore) occupying the top corners, Gale & Peeta occupying the bottom corners, with Kat firmly pinned where the two points meet, in the middle.
I had hoped that someone other than Snow would make a real case for the loyalist POV, in order to make the conflict seem less one-sided; but I suppose Sutherland’s very embodiment of the State would be a hard act to follow. Unfortunately, not much else was revealed about President Snow’s character, other than a brief reciting of how he came to power (and by his condition); but I suppose both he, and President Coin were more effective as arch-types. Snow, as personified by Sutherland, has been one of the most effective villains of any genre. His soft, measured, and even playful approach more than underscores why such a person would inspire both fear & loyalty – as the patriarchal figure that can curb a temperamental moment with a single look – but it also made him the perfect foil for Katniss, as no one did a better job of framing the Widow’s diagram for her. The Mockingjay was more his creation than the Games, or the Capital; and I think, by the end, he took a certain pride in how much control he had exerted over The Girl on Fire, after all.
President Coin, on the other hand, inspired through passion; as perfect to be at Katniss’ back, as Snow was at her face. With the public passions stirred by the Mockingjay added to the mobilized zeal of her own District, Coin was able to manage the kind of momentum that made it all too easy for Katniss to develop target fixation (on both Snow & Peeta). To her credit, Julianne Moore wielded the strengths of her character with just enough pragmatic empathy to keep Katniss’ focus where intended. Coin had her own reasons to take pride in the Mockingjay, as her own creation; but there was another.
Philip Seymore Hoffman’s Plutarch was the slow blade, which slid into place when & where it could have the greatest effect, and yet go largely unnoticed. The fact that he made his contribution known at all spoke of his own pride, in exerting some control over the Fire; but the way it was made known may have been more effective than extra screen time for the actor (RIP).
The macro dynamic therefore boiled down to a battle of egos, and any student of WW2’s Eastern Front could see the writing on the wall. The fact that the series would keep its conflict so decidedly grey, however, was encouraging enough to make the journey worthwhile.
There were moments that were clearly telegraphed – weddings are often a mixed blessing, the climax was prefaced at the start of the film, and at one point you could actually mark the exact moment a character meets a violent end (and which character it would be) – but, again, the scale of such moments kept them effective.
What really allowed the series – this final instalment, in particular – to stand out from its field has been its ability to balance larger themes with narrower ones. For all its grandeur, Harry Potter remained the story of the boy who lived, both The Maze Runner & Divergent series brought us settings/ themes that loomed over their characters, and no amount of world building could help the lovers of the Twilight Saga get over themselves. At no point, during Mockingjay 2, was Kat – or anyone else, for that matter – allowed to make it all about her, even as the titanic forces about her kept insisting that it was.
Like some of the better examples of the genre, The Hunger Games was about the power of ideas, the fact that such power wields both ways, and what it means for a person to actually become the embodiment of such ideas. Kat’s ongoing struggle to be true to herself – or even settling on who that even was – while living up to being a living idea, was what kept the story relatable. The extra element, of those seeking ownership of such ideas, was what kept the story from becoming too self-involved.
In some surprising – if not inadvertent – ways, The Hunger Games has not only redeemed much of what has been the downside of Young Adult Fiction (oversimplification of conflict & characters, obvious fan-service, etc), but some of what has been regarded as adult material. The resolution to The Hunger Games’ conflict would have been a more historically accurate ending to 300. What that says about what we divine as Tween versus grown-up fare, I’ll leave to you. The thought just made me shake my head a little, is all.
Still, at the end of it all – and regardless of all the series has done right for itself – no doubt there are a number of you non-source fans (I’ll try not to even think of how many) only really concerned with one question: who does Katniss choose. If the series has painted a clear enough picture of Kat’s nature, and you consider the circumstance to each of her choices, then you’d know that choice had been made from the very beginning. Don’t regard that answer as (just) a dodge – it actually says something about how the film/ series ended.
There were some loose ends (the face/voice of the series was never seen again, going into the final act); but the micro vs macro dynamic was satisfactorily resolved. In both cases, Katniss chose the monster that was created, rather than the one that chose to be, and paid a price for both. There was no Avalon getaway, for her troubles; but there was about as much solace to be had as any average veteran can hope for, to show for wounds that never heal.
That is as real & relevant as any treatment on conflict should be – regardless of the genre.
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