When I say that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is infinity better than its middling companion piece, know that I mean it with all my heart – but also understand that I didn’t care for Part I very much. Part 2 is everything Part 1 is missing, to the point where if you extracted Peeta and Katniss’ cliffhanging hospital brawl and inserted it immediately before this second chapter’s start, I’d see no need for Part 1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay could have been one three hour movie if Francis Lawrence and his team reigned in unnecessary bloating, but for what it’s worth, Part 2 is a fiery finish for this epic-scale blockbuster franchise – albeit another drawn-out endeavor that could have done with some beneficial trimming.
Where Part 1 ignited a war between rebels and the Capitol, Part 2 tells how Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) plans to end the bloodshed once and for all. With Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) still experiencing aggressive side-effects of President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) brainwashing, Katniss is determined to kill the tyrannical leader once and for all.
Aided by an elite squad including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), and more, Katniss finds herself playing another dangerous game against Snow’s protective measures. Peacekeepers roam war-torn streets, pods spring deadly traps, and mutants tear through underground tunnels, but District 12’s savior fights on against the most unbalanced of odds. The Capitol stands no chance as long as Katniss stays alive, a girl whose fire still burns long after her Hunger Games introduction.
Let me start by saying Lawrence directs the most tense, white-knuckled sequence of the entire franchise in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, as Katniss’ team is attacked by monstrous forms that remind me of Resident Evil creatures. These meanies run with ferocity and present a more-than-formidable horde of foes that deplete the squad’s ranks with ease, but more importantly, they usher in a darkness that reaffirms quite a different tone throughout Part 2.
Deaths are brutal, as poor souls cry out for a swift end, but the action is hold-your-breath worthy in the realm of 28 Days Later, or likeminded horror fare. This is a meaner, nastier, more mature Hunger Games, but I absolutely dig the embracing of hardcore action and another vicious fight for survival given how intense the entire underground struggle becomes. This claustrophobic chaos will leave viewers rattled and destroyed, only because it’s that damn unnerving.
It should come as no shock that Jennifer Lawrence closes The Hunger Games with the same sensational star-power that catapulted her into Hollywood royalty. As a leader, she speaks with oratory command and infectious hope. As a fighter, she wields a bow with a hunter’s touch that needs no protections from others. As a character, her wounds always remain visible, but that’s what lends to Katniss’ ongoing strength in the face of insurmountable Capitol odds. Lionsgate prances Lawrence around like their prized pony on these Hunger Games films because she deserves such praise, which is why Katniss Everdeen will remain one of this decade’s more memorably poignant cinematic figures.
With that said, we’re served smaller portions of side-characters who are disposable pawns in Katniss’ final game. Hutcherson’s paranoid Peeta provides for some relationship tension, as does Hemsworth’s presence in this dystopian love-triangle, but the likes of Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and – sadly – Philip Seymour Hoffman are somehow underused in such an elongated film.
Case in point – when a sealed-off town square begins to fill with a mechanized oil substance, Peeta goes crazy and pushes one of his squad members to their death. The effect is slick (heh), but with such little attention paid to other characters, I found myself completely baffled by the unidentifiable body now covered in oil. Kudos to Pollux (Elden Henson) and Castor (Wes Chatham) for getting to be more than turtle-shelled cameramen, but the other lives lost for a free Panem are insignificant in comparison to Ms. Everdeen – an intended effect, but a distracting one nonetheless.
More than any of the other films, The Hunger Games: – Mockingjay Part 2 is about the complete and utter breakdown of a ruling class. Political commentary warns of what the corruption of power can do to anyone, whether they be wealthy socialites, or those who claim to be fighting for the bastard children of poverty. Writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong embrace the cold despair of wartime atrocities by leaving those fantastical aspects of Suzanne Collins’ early work for something grittier, bleeker, and far more mature. War is Hell, and Hell brings itself to the steps of the Capitol – all those caught in between are simply casualties of freedom. It’s a story of terror and inspiration alike, but more importantly, we’re treated with a more adult respect that blurs the lines between YA safety and true battle-torn drama.
In the grand scheme of this epic franchise, Lawrence’s finishing blow will go down as a favorite for some, and a second favorite for most others – but, most admirably, we’re presented with a wholly different behemoth. Francis Lawrence has come a long way from Gary Ross’ beginning introduction to the games, diving head-first into the innocent destruction of a tragic civil war. It runs a bit long and doesn’t make a foolproof case for yet another daunting runtime, but where Part 1 failed to justify the third-book split outright, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 does quite the opposite.
Versus Part 1‘s sluggish demeanor, Part 2 is a thrilling, socially-aware beast that embraces the intensity of war while offering a message of hope even in the most painful of struggles – the same message Katniss has been preaching since frame one, just on a much grander, franchise-capping scale.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the least YA of all the franchise's films, and represents a dark yet mature finish to Katniss' ever-evolving journey.