It’s rare that a franchise as large as the Hunger Games offers such stark political commentary, but that is exactly what director Francis Lawrence accomplishes in the final installment of the series. With Mockingjay, Part 2, the fans that were once enticed by the storied romance of Peeta Mallark and Katniss Everdeen now must watch their favorite characters grapple with forces larger than their own love. My interest in the Hunger Games previously came with some irony: I wanted to see what all the teen hype was about. I enjoyed the films for their entertainment value and their role as a litmus test for the changing demographics of pop culture. But Mockingjay, Part 2 proves that the trilogy can mature with its fan base and deliver an unforgettable movie that denies its viewers any formulaic happy ending. The final chapter of the Hunger Games is an urgent warning of the perils of war and the difficult decisions that must be made in a time of crisis.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Producers: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik
Writer: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins (novel)
Cinematographer: Jo Willems
Editors: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa
Music: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci
US Theatrical Release: November 20, 2015
US Distributor: Lionsgate
A quick refresh for those with an unreliable memory:
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), tributes from District 12, have been forced to compete in two different Hunger Games—a fight to the death battle where only one person emerges the victor, televised live to all of Panem as both entertainment and a reminder from President Snow that the state controls the lives of its citizens. The first game ended in their unprecedented mutual win, a result of their rebellious decision to attempt suicide rather than kill each other. Part of their victory came from their act as star-crossed lovers who allegedly fell for each other during the course of the competition. Peeta’s emotion was genuine, but Katniss was less sure of her feelings.
Returning home to District 12, she finds herself caught in a love triangle between Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her childhood friend. President Snow is displeased that they cheated the system and therefore forces them to compete in another game, this time populated entirely by former winners. Once inside the games, it becomes clear that the anti-government rebels are using the games as political fodder against the state. They break Katniss free from the confines of the game so that they can escalate Panem into a full-fledged civil war. Despite Katniss’s wishes, Peeta gets left behind and Snow’s cronies seek to use him as a pawn in their political games.
The third movie opens with many of the thirteen original districts destroyed by President Snow’s “peacekeepers,” leaving his citizens forced to find recluse below ground. Katniss is under the care of rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who seek to use her as the poster child (aka The Mockingjay) for the rebel cause. After much hesitation, Katniss agrees to shoot propaganda films to mobilize the citizens of Panem to rise up against President Snow. Meanwhile, Peeta has been brainwashed by the government to kill Katniss. The rebels rescue him and bring him to safety, but he attempts to strangle her upon first contact.
Mockingjay, Part 2 finds the country in complete upheaval and opens with Panem preparing for war. Still recovering from her encounter with Peeta, Katniss joins Gale and the rebel forces as they plan to storm the capitol and execute President Snow. From the beginning, the film presents the difficult decisions that arise in a state of war. Rebel leaders discuss invasion tactics and question whether complicit civilians in the capitol are worthy of living. Radicals like Gale believe that any measure is necessary to achieve victory over Snow. Being the headstrong protagonist that she is, Katniss insists on joining the rebel cause in battle. Rebel President Coin forbids her, which of course, only encourages her to sneak aboard a supply plane into the capitol.
The final Hunger Games film hits the perfect balance of plot and emotion, dialogue and action. Where previous films seemed to abandon narrative points midway or linger on tired romances, Mockingjay, Part 2 manages to maintain tension and suspense without overdoing the fight scenes. Despite my efforts to maintain a critical eye at the onset of the film, I was quickly sucked into the world of Katniss Everdeen and found no reprieve until the final moments. Though there is not a whole lot of dialogue (thank god), Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is the best of the series. Her character has come into maturity alongside her audience and Katniss only occasionally exhibits some of the childish insecurity and indecision present in previous films. Katniss is a complicated character, pulled in many different directions at once. Lawrence lends nuance to this character and breathes life into a franchise that could easily feel overdone. It is encouraging to watch such a self-assured female protagonist take the fate of an entire nation into her own hands and I felt a strange sense of pride in knowing that a generation of girls grew up with Katniss as a role model.
This is not to say that Mockingjay, Part 2 paints a black and white picture of good and evil. Much the opposite, the film allows the viewer to make their own judgments about the characters’ actions. Both Katniss and Gale must make choices they would only consider in times of war with results that are far from ideal. While Mockingjay, Part 2 doesn’t bear witness to Katniss’ frenzied logic (we’ve seen enough of this in the previous three movies), the coldness with which she makes major decisions only underlines how the immense gravity of war has transformed her into a calculating heroine. The film questions what sacrifices are justified in order to achieve peace. Because of this moral positioning, The Hunger Games resonates on much deeper notes in regards to terrorism, war, and oppression. The franchise is so obviously a product of its time that the self-awareness of this final film allows it to ring true beyond its entertainment value.
Despite the film’s apt commentary on the 21st century, it is not without it’s flaws. I would have felt a lot better about the whole thing if the final five minutes never existed and if Katniss used the phrase “I’m going to kill Snow” six times less. There were moments when Mockingjay, Part 2 veered dangerously close into falling into its old habit of tortured Gale and pitiful Peeta. But ultimately these small detractions didn’t take away from the overall message.
The Hunger Games has proved that it can shed its childish cloak and evolve into a trilogy that forces its audience to engage with the terrors of war. It is a warning against a possible future, a parable about the destructive capabilities of power, and a tormented love story, all while being the most exciting thing on the big screen this season.