So here it is – the final instalment of The Hunger Games. Does it end on a good note? Despite a few stumbles, yes it does.
As the war on Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the reluctant leader of the rebellion must bring together an army against President Snow (Donald Sutherland), while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.
“We all have one enemy, and that’s President Snow! He corrupts everyone and everything! He turns the best of us against each other… Stop killing for him! Tonight, turn your weapons to the Capitol! Turn your weapons to Snow!” – Katniss Everdeen
I’ve come a long way with this franchise. When the first film came out I had no knowledge of it or any intention of watching it. It was only by chance that I took interest and was genuinely surprised by how enjoyable it was. Now I react with excitement just by the mere mention of the name.
The Hunger Games as a film franchise has impressive qualities. It has a brilliant cast and an epic storyline that you can invest in. But the most important aspect is that the storyline doesn’t talk down to its audience. It has a great appeal to all ages (in a similar vein to Harry Potter) and not afraid to tackle adult themes. Its tone has been very consistent right throughout from beginning to the end and Mockingjay Part 2 delivers on that notion.
If people criticized the lack of action in Mockingjay Part 1, then rest assured, the action returns in Part 2 in a thrilling, tense and exciting way.
The action further establishes how far we’ve come away from the actual Hunger Games as a sport to an actual battle of survival and freedom. No more fancy dresses, parades, show boating of decadence or propaganda commentary from Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). The Capitol has been turned into a war zone filled with deadly hidden traps. The best thing about this aspect is that you don’t have to wait long. As long as you’re up to speed with everything, the film wastes no time and hits the ground running. It begins in the aftermath of the attack on Katniss by a brainwashed and deranged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) before hitting its stride.
As noted in my Part 1 review, Mockingjay Part 2 continues with the political and psychological agenda between the rebellion and the Capitol. Katniss once again is used as a political weapon in the same fashion as Peeta was for the Capitol. At times, Katniss still plays the naivety card but soon wises up to the nature of war and her mission after a dramatic and early incident. As predicted, Katniss does start to show some initiative and leadership qualities, clearly motivated by her own intentions at stopping Snow. The trouble is, even though she wants to pursue it alone, in the eyes of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), she’s far too important for the rebellion movement and gives her the help she needs, whether Katniss likes it or not.
Each film has always contained a mini social commentary that is easily relatable in our modern world. If for example, Catching Fire highlighted the differences between the poor and the lavish rich in Panem just like in A Tale of Two Cities, then Mockingjay Part 2 continues that tradition. What it does is examines the essence of power.
For so long, there’s always been a clear definition on who the enemy is. It has always been about Katniss and President Snow, a psychological game of one-upmanship as they struggle to preserve what they believe in. In Mockingjay Part 2, the situation is no different as they both face the realities of war. Snow must be the only polite and respectful villain I know to constantly address Katniss as Miss Everdeen but in a strange way, they were worthy opponents on a calculating chess board. But is Snow really the bad guy or is there someone far worse waiting in the wings? The brilliant thing about this exploration is that it basically mimics the real world for all its complexities. Yes there is a clear divide on the battlefields but when it comes to the aftermath, the next steps can be far more devious and deceptive. Who says the grass is greener on the other side? Katniss has to rely on her natural instincts to overcome a battle that is not won simply with a bow and arrow.
As this is the final Hunger Games film, a lot is at stake. If you’ve come this far and emotionally invested yourself, then certain aspects will be rewarding and shocking. We finally see all the districts uniting together but it’s not without consequences. Characters die which cements the film’s power and impact, long established since the beginning. At its emotional core through the darkness is the continued exploration of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. They have to come to terms with what they are and how much of an active role they still have to play in the fate of Panem.
“Our lives were never ours, they belong to Snow and our deaths do too. But if you kill him, Katniss, all those deaths, they mean something.” – Peeta
The film does stumble and that comes towards the end where it tries to wrap everything up. Whether it was purely down to creative decisions or availability, some elements felt rushed and could have done with some extra time.
The first stumbling block belongs to Prim (Willow Shields). Her death whilst shocking was handled a bit clumsily. While the film easily establishes that she becomes a nurse for the rebellion, she practically appears out of nowhere within the Capitol, only to die seconds later. Whilst Jennifer Lawrence does a superb job at carrying that emotional moment and burden for her character, it still doesn’t make up how I’ve felt about Prim’s character development within the franchise. Prim as a character hasn’t had the build up in the same fashion as others. Since the conclusion is spread over two parts, there should have been more time devoted to make sure that scene got the maximum impact. That scene basically shapes and defines the future outcome of Panem and its over in an instant.
The next stumbling block belongs to Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Whilst it has been heading in a certain direction for a while, the film makes it painfully obvious on who Katniss was going to pick and ideally it would have been nice to see Katniss and her indecision played out a bit more to at least keep the audience guessing. Because the moment is predictable, it loses the necessary impact.
The final stumbling block comes down to preference. For someone who has not read the books, I could have taken this film at face value and be satisfied with it. But as I’m friends with people who have read the book, I’m more inclined to agree with them on certain aspects and actually wished they were included in the film. The events such as Gale’s personal involvement in the final battle in the Capitol, the ambiguous state about Peeta and whether he’s really recovered from Snow’s torture or even acknowledgement of the post war trauma would have been nice additions. The ending (in the frame of Return of the King and Harry Potter) paints it too simply and cleanly for teenagers who’ve gone to hell and back. Had those additions made it through to the final cut, it certainly would have made Mockingjay Part 2 an interesting and brave experience. It would have stood out from other franchises as well as delivering on what you would expect.
But ultimately, the stumbling blocks do not deter how I’ve felt about this franchise.
Once the hype dies down and you place this film within context, The Hunger Games will be remembered fondly, each film uniquely different from each other and not relying on previous successes or formulas.
Once again, Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with a very strong and emotional performance, cementing the legacy of Katniss Everdeen as one of the best female characters committed to a cinema screen. Seeing a well rounded character should be celebrated.
Any film franchise adapted from the books will never entirely satisfy everyone. But with The Hunger Games, the franchise comes to a satisfactory and epic end and I’m glad to have taken a chance on it.