In the three and a half years since Jennifer Lawrence first picked up Katniss Everdeen’s bow and arrow and began the battle for a dystopian civilization’s future, things have changed mightily in our own realities. Tech companies intended to democratize our society and fix income disparities have made things worse. Refugees are being interned and slaughtered en masse, on multiple continents. Western countries are closing their doors in response. For better or worse, it’s not a stretch to say that our own society has been feeling significantly more like Panem these days.
Whereas our own civil dissonance can often be forgotten in a few rotations of the 24-hour news cycle, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 drops viewers right into the realities of what decades of discord in a modernized society resembles. As a parable, it’s both chilling and necessary. As a film, however, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is merely decent.
Unlike other fantastical novel-to-screen fantasy and sci-fi adaptations, The Hunger Games has always been distinctly dark, and that’s after you get past its Lord of the Flies analogy. The final film of the quartet is by far the darkest; the few laughs in the audience were products of lines that didn’t seem particularly quippy, so much as moments that felt the least insensitive to laugh at, just to let some air back into the room. Katniss comes into the film struggling to help reverse the effects of President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) torture of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She sneaks into the Capitol to assassinate Snow, while unwittingly pulling along Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Cressida (an excellent Natalie Dormer), and a small group of other high value rebel assets into her plan.
Though plot heavy, the moral issues at hand are once again the focal point of the film, which boldly makes no attempt to sugarcoat the realities of war, politics, and power. Hutcherson’s portrayal of a PTSD-wracked Peeta is some of his finest work, and blessedly not compromised for the sake of a teenage love story. President Coyne’s (Julianne Moore) portrayal of the ability of power to corrupt, both sides’ rampant use of propaganda, the realities of war that spills the blood of children over needless class warfare: it’s all back. The scariest part of Panem’s reality isn’t merely onscreen; it’s largely analogous to the world we live in today.
Katniss’ increasing disillusionment with Coyne’s choices as rebel leader is played perfectly by Lawrence, and brings with it yet another philosophical debate to ponder: is the enemy of your enemy necessarily your friend? The social commentary may be heavy-handed throughout, but given that the film markets to a YA audience, it plays uncomfortably familiar for adults as well. It doesn’t patronize, it pulls no punches – and be assured, the punches are relentless in the second half. War has never been quite so stylized, while maintaining a grim terror that grounds it wholly.
And the film is visually stunning. The booby-trapped Capitol proves that the villains the rebels face are often anthromorphic; never have I been more terrified of subway tiles. The fight scenes are far less a battle and far more a siege, accompanied by a haunting score, excellent art direction, and disarming special effects. The supporting cast — Hemsworth, Claflin, Dormer, a sorely missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson, among others — are a welcome return, though all have shed much of their previous effervescence in the face of war.
But the familiar complaint still applies: the finale didn’t need to be two films. The storytelling feels off in a movie this stilted. It’s not a major complaint, but a detriment nonetheless to a film tackling issues impressively far outside of its expected scope. The movie drags for the first half, with little to anchor it to — given that it opens exactly where the prior left off — with little context or buildup of any kind. The second half picks up as Katniss’ group moves through the city, but again, the lack of heightening tension in favor of choppy storytelling – even if the choice was a stylistic allegory for the chippy, uncertain parts of war – makes the film feel rushed and incohesive. It’s a good story, but only a decently made standalone film.
As a popcorn movie, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 brings surprising depth to the multi-part tentpole genre, as did its predecessor films. As a film, it’s fine. The youth of its actors shows in how well some were able to nuance a script that offered little heightening as much as it did just tension, but the film soldiers on relentlessly. It’s a worthy finale of a strong series, even in spite of its drawn-out conclusion. The fact that it elevated past its potential for being a strong blockbuster, into becoming a jumping off point for social discourse is far more impressive.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 will be released on November 20th.
Photos by Lionsgate