In the face of many opinions to the contrary, I remain convinced that the “Hunger Games” franchise is one of the most intelligent and socially meritorious young-adult narratives of the last several years. The themes probed are both universal (war, sacrifice, and the will to power) and culturally salient (mass media propagandizing, information warfare, and the alienation of the elites). And “Mockingjay – Part 2,” while not quite matching its source novel’s raw visceral energy, is an excellent finale that doesn’t compromise on those themes.
Like the final “Harry Potter” film, “Mockingjay – Part 2” spends little time on backstory: after rescuing a traumatized Peeta from the evil Capitol’s forces, protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her squad of rebels lead a series of increasingly dangerous missions into the heart of the Capitol’s central city. Their target: the evil President Snow; their goal: building a new society administered by rebel leader Alma Coin.
Forced into an artificially contrived narrative structure, the first “Mockingjay” film was not exactly compelling. No real justification for splitting the films seems to exist at this point (other than crass profit-grabbing), and I look forward to the inevitable fan-edit that seamlessly combines the two. That said, some sacrifices have certainly been made in these final film adaptations to make the narrative more audience-friendly. Chief among these is the excision of Katniss’s own psychological instability, which in the books spawned “unreliable narrator” questions about what exactly is occurring. Other changes include the ways in which plot points left implicit in the novels are spelled out overtly onscreen, and the entire framing of the saga as a “Katniss versus evil President Snow” clash. The end result is that the fierce bite of the novel’s storyline is a bit toned-down – though “Mockingjay – Part 2” is really about as good as it could possibly be. This second part is back on track, hitting just as many high notes as the first two movies.
On the acting front, Lawrence is truly this series’s most valuable asset, infusing Katniss’s character with a steely gravitas that subsequent knockoff franchises (“Divergent,” “The Maze Runner”) have tried and failed to emulate. (Franchise stalwarts Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth, unfortunately, aren’t given much to work with here). What’s more, the action scenes are really, really great, and incredibly intense. If you, like me, are tired of over-CGI’d, Marvel-style, gratuitously explosive set pieces, “Mockingjay – Part 2” will be much to your liking. A subterranean battle against genetic mutants is a true standout here: it’s better than any similar scene I’ve watched since “Aliens” (and I’m including the oft-ballyhooed “The Descent”). Suffused with a terrifying aura of dread and desperation, and shot with the perfect balance of steady-cam footage and fast-cut edits, it’s pulse-pounding in all the very best ways.
(My one complaint: there’s no curated soundtrack. The likes of Lorde, Arcade Fire, The Civil Wars, Coldplay, etc., are missed.)
At the end of the day, the “Hunger Games” series has proven itself artistically and thematically superior to so much of the mass-market dreck that passes for contemporary blockbuster entertainment. “Mockingjay – Part 2” is a fine finale to that project, and one that manages to be intelligently cynical without lapsing into nihilism. Enthusiastically recommended.
Shaking off the dust of its limp predecessor, “Mockingjay – Part 2” successfully caps off a compelling series.