The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015)
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Danny Strong, Peter Craig, Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 137 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Katniss Everdeen recovers after nearly being murdered by Peeta Mellark who has been “hijacked” by the Capitol. After rebel forces destroy the Capitol’s weapons supply in District 2, a plan developed by Gale Hawthorne and Beetee Latier, Katniss shoots a propaganda film about the influx of Capitol refugees arriving in District 13, who are mistreated and brutalised by the rebels. When she attempts to intervene in the situation, a fight breaks out, during which Katniss is shot. After recovering, she approaches President Alma Coin and volunteers to kill President Coriolanus Snow but Coin declines in favour of preserving Katniss as the symbol of their revolution. Hearing of an aircraft leaving for District 2, where Commander Paylor is planning an all-out assault on the Capitol, Katniss sneaks aboard….
There seems to be a bit of an air of disappointment around this final [?] chapter of the Hunger Games series, though some of it could be because of the fall-out from the last episode which seemed to disappoint many indeed, mainly because it was so different from the first two films, and because, in what seemed like a cynical money-making exercise, they’d decided to split the last book in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins into two films, the latter supposedly resulting in a somewhat dull movie where little happened. I didn’t find Mockingjay – Part 1 dull and uneventful myself, though having now just watched Mockingjay – Part 2, I do agree that one movie would have been sufficient to tell the story, though I reckon one that lasts three hours would have been needed. I doubt the producers ever considered that option. In any case, while the films all have faults, I like this surprisingly intelligent franchise myself, and so I also enjoyed this final film, though it’s easy to see why it, too, seems to have let many people down, especially with the way that the third film seemed to build up to, and this fourth one seemed to promise, lots of large scale battle action, which doesn’t take place.
However, I think, while not everything in it works, it’s in many ways a very interesting and even a slightly remarkable film considering it’s an episode of a blockbuster series aimed largely as teenagers. It’s almost unrelentingly grim and even cynical, and pushes the boundaries of its ratings [on both sides of the pond] about as far as they will go, though in no way does it seem to glorify violence which some say the first two movies did, and, though I haven’t read it, I have it on good knowledge that many of the film’s deaths were greatly toned down from the book. Like many others, I thought that this movie would have a hell of a lot of action, and was a bit disappointed when it became obvious that this was not going to be the case – in fact some of the film is just damn frustrating when you can actually hear fighting that is taking place off-screen – while from what I’ve read they would have been better off changing some things here and there considering the last book seems to be generally considered the weakest. However, there’s a lot else to appreciate. The story, which certainly surprised me on a couple of occasions, is often powerful, clever and timely, and I admired greatly its guts. Except for right at the end, this film doesn’t really make any attempt to soften the harshness of its allegorical tale of power and propaganda, it doesn’t really make any concessions to make things easier for the viewer, or try to lighten the mood, or give us easy answers, taking the film closer to something like The Dark Knight, which is actually a film where I fail to see the brilliance that many others see, but which has a similar approach.
Following immediately from the last film [in fact the final scene of Mockingjay – Part 1, where Katniss wakes up and learns Peeta has been hijacked, after he tries to kill her, was originally intended to be the opening scene of this film] , so much so that you really could join the two together [I think you could get a really good ‘fan edit’ from putting together the two films and editing an hour or so out], Mockingjay – Part 2 begins with the lines between good and bad already having been slightly blurred, and proceeds to blur them even more. Insurgent leader Alma Coin doesn’t seem at all bothered by the fact that the first major military action in the film [though of course you don’t actually see it, something that happens time and time again throughout the rest of the picture] will kill loads of civilians. Katniss remains idealistic, but we are asked to consider whether she could be being too idealistic about the nature of war. She’s chiefly used by Coin for propaganda, Katniss beginning to struggle with stuff from the resistance that isn’t at all dissimilar from when she was under the thumb of President Snow. She manages to sneak off to where the rebel assault on Snow is being planned, but even there is asked, along with a select crew of new and old faces, not to join in the main attack but to follow behind and become the public “face” of the insurgent assault.
It’s here where Mockingjay – Part 2 begins to recall the first two films, with our intrepid crew encountering a series of perils as they get nearer and nearer to their target. One underground sequence where they encounter demons takes the series into the world of the horror movie – in fact, it’s almost straight out of The Descent – but seems a bit too fantastical. However, it’s very handled by director Francis Lawrence, both in its tense build-up and in its hectic action, and this whole section really is very tense indeed. Things are on the verge of actually getting a bit rousing, but then we get a truly upsetting massacre, another bit expertly handled for maximum impact while hardly showing any blood, and the rug is basically pulled out from under our feet with a twist which certainly took this critic by surprise. Black and white ceases to exist and – dare I say it – the viewer is left even sympathising just a little with the likes of President Snow [he’s no simplistic baddie, rather a character with some depth and aided immensely by Donald Sutherland’s excellent acting]. Meanwhile there’s no big final showdown, just a concluding of what is a really smart study on how propaganda works and how one fascist system can so easily be replaced by another. The movie then just kind of winds down, which I don’t find to be as bad a thing as many others do [I love The Return Of The King’s multiple endings], but it’s a shame that the film, and I would guess the book, loses heart at the last hurdle and feels it necessary to give us a rather out of place happy ending.
This isn’t a very attractive movie visually, cinematographer Jo Willems opting to shoot most of it in dull blues and greys, though I suppose it adds to the gritty tone of a film which never really attempt to lighten the mood [Stanley Tucci only gets about a minute’s worth of screen time], something which doesn’t seem to have pleased the critics [while I appreciate its flaws, I’m surprised by the muted critical response of a film which tries so hard not to be your usual dumb blockbuster] but seems right to my eyes. Meanwhile Lawrence still likes the camera operator to shake the camera about on occasion [‘cos of course it’s realistic, right?] but he handles most of the film well. There’s even a moment of pure style when we get lots of dizzying circular camera movements during a dance scene. Unfortunately there are some moments of very poor CGI, while on the other side of the coin, the human side of the story doesn’t always hit home as well as it should. The love triangle is so underplayed that it almost didn’t need to be in the movie, while Josh Hutcherson particularly lets the side down as Peeta, a character who is undergoing extremely difficult struggles internally. And then there’s Katniss. She doesn’t appear to have actually learnt much by the time of this film, as she still seems somewhat naïve and foolhardy, but then that is probably the whole point. She’s a deliberately flawed character who actually doesn’t undergo all the development you may expect, but this is exactly what makes her believable. And of course Lawrence is magnificent.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman isn’t in the film much, his unfinished part completed with deleted footage from Mockinjay – Part 1 and the giving of two of his scenes to other characters. His subtly tense scenes with Julianne Moore’s Coin are still decent moments from him to go out on. Even to folk like me who really liked it, Mockinjay – Part 2 is undoubtedly a slightly unsatisfying finale to this franchise, but in a way this is rather appropriate. It struggles to resolve its story, and doesn’t really have a sense of finality. There’s not even much of a release. In fact, one will probably exit the cinema feeling a little depressed. However, all this is exactly the point. Things do not always end properly. This film – indeed the whole franchise – look at its issues with a very critical eye and concludes that there are no easy answers. Despite certain aspects which could have been improved upon, from the first film’s horrendous shakycam to the stretching out of its last instalment into two, overall The Hunger Games is a surprisingly deep and praiseworthy franchise, and its concluding episode, while possibly the least entertaining, may with time seem like the best and most mature of the films. I didn’t always want it to unfold the way it did, but do feel that’s the way it probably had to be.