It’s finally here, people! The second part of the third chapter in Suzanne Collins‘ Hunger Games saga which makes it the fourth movie because we just have to accept that this is how human beings make movies now. Last year’s half of Mockingjay had its great moments, but most fans caught on that it was little more than needlessly drawn-out build-up for a supposedly much more grand climax, and since we’re too greedy to just make one movie per book anymore, said fans would have to wait an entire year for that build-up to actually pay off. The question, obviously, is this: did it really pay off? My sentiment: OH yes!
In Mockingjay – Part 2, possibly the best and darkest movie of the entire series, we return to the dystopian world of Panem. It’s a futuristic America. It has districts. Some districts are poor, others aren’t, and the Capitol is full of spoiled snobs and fascists with ugly clothes who like to watch people kill each other on TV. I won’t bother trying to recap things more eloquently than that.
At this point, the war between the forces of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and a rebellion led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is perhaps at its worst. The rebels still have Hunger Games champ Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as their propaganda symbol and inspirational talker, thus their “Mockingjay”, but her strength has withered ever since the rebellion freed her kinda-sorta boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) from Snow’s clutches in the previous film, only to find that he has become brainwashed and is now highly unstable. She is unsure if she can let go of him, which makes things turbulent between her and her other kinda-sorta boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The love triangle’s a relatively small subplot this time and thankfully nobody cares so let’s move on.
The main storyline concerns Katniss being joined by a band of both old and brand new characters, some from Districts once loyal to Snow, to go infiltrate the Capitol under the command of Boggs (Mahershala Ali). What her squad does not know, however, is that she plans to get directly to Snow and assassinate him. For some reason, they bring along Peeta, which seems extremely unsafe given his current condition but whatever. The rest of the film consists mostly of Katniss and her small army moving closer and closer to Snow’s mansion, as they avoid the many death traps he has set for them throughout the Capitol, making this the most intense Hunger Game that Katniss has played in yet. I dunno, putting a survivor of two Hunger Games in another Hunger Games-like situation may have been a weak move on Snow’s part, but I really loved some of his traps and I may even have found the movie a little bit exciting once it truly “got started”.
As I mentioned, numerous old and new characters appear throughout the film. Returning from previous movies are Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrellson), Katniss’ adorable siter Prim (Willow Shields), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Annie (Stef Dawson), Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) for a little while, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and that one mute guy. The newcomers are Gwendoline Christie as a commander from District 2, Michelle Forbes as Boggs’ second-in-command, and some weird woman from the Capitol who wears tiger face-paint and whiskers – as if Capitol residents didn’t dress stupid enough as it was. Last but not least, there’s the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in what’s probably the last footage we have of him as the rebellion’s propaganda director Plutarch Heavensbee. At some points towards the end, you can tell that he has been digitally inserted in certain scenes, but they for some reason forgot to give him an “In Memoriam”.
When Hoffman died, I feared that he wouldn’t get to appear in the last two Hunger Games films at all, thus I am glad they had enough of him to maintain the big role his character had in the books. There’s just something about using CGI to recreate a dead man for a film and then not dedicating that film to him that seems a little weird to me. But I digress.
I will reiterate that, despite a meandering start, I ended up really liking Mockingjay – Part 2. Since this movie is far more war-oriented than the previous three, it provides some pretty intense and often also pretty damn heavy moments, as well as a significant death toll. Some of the characters I’ve mentioned do bite the dust in this film, and although some deaths predictably go to newer characters that the audience doesn’t know very well, the movie eventually goes ballsy enough to give us death scenes that hit hard. I’ll talk more about that (as spoiler-free as I can) in a bit.
While I enjoyed the film and its daring to go more dark and mature than you’d expect from something that often gets marketed to the Twilight crowd (though I’ve always known that Hunger Games is smarter than typical YA fiction), there are portions of it that make too little sense or don’t quite work.
There are still moments where the film feels bloated in its attempts to flesh out as many of its gazillion characters as possible, even if such scenes are often moving (I liked Finnick and Annie’s wedding way more than someone with my attitude towards life should), and I as much as I loved the now infamous “bombing” scene in the third act, I found myself questioning why Katniss and Gale would try to sneak up on President Snow’s mansion wearing nothing but robes as their “disguise”. Couldn’t they at least have asked that tiger woman for face paint? Doesn’t this choice of cover seem incredibly risky now that they’re this close to their ultimate goal?
Keep in mind that this is at a point where all the civilians in the Capitol are being brought to Snow’s estate for shelter, so it comes as no surprise that Katniss is spotted by a little girl who only shuts up about it due to sheer luck. In spite of this, I loved the escalating suspense that her not-so-effective disguise creates the closer they get to the guards at Snow’s gates and the sequence that immediately follows might just be the heaviest and boldest scene in the entire film, on top of giving us a much more thought-provoking twist about what’s going on behind-the-scenes than the one in Catching Fire. I won’t reveal too much, but it involves Katniss realizing that there are victims and villains on both sides of the war, and considering the recent events in Paris that are gonna make this part really hard to stomach for some, I am astounded yet somehow proud that this sequence wasn’t cut from the final film.
Now that I’ve wasted time talking about just one part of the movie in particular, I might as well name other reasons I ultimately liked it. The suspense of the film’s latter three-quarters is consistently effective both when it’s a big action scene and when it’s just a low-key scene of the heroes sneaking around in a sewer filled with hostile creatures (or walking towards a mansion), most character moments are genuine and heartfelt, the performances are top-notch (I applaud Sutherland, Lawrence and surprisingly Hutcherson especially), James Newton Howard‘s score is still something to swoon over, and the visual effects are well-utilized and never feel like they’re just trying to show off what CG can do. I’m not sure how much of it was practical but that stuff also looks nice.
And with that, we’re done with The Hunger Games. I’m glad that it ended on a high-note and that I at last got to actually follow a book-to-movie franchise while it was running, as opposed to catching up on it later (Harry Potter; Lord of the Rings). And no, I’m not going to see the next Divergent sequel because I’m still trying to figure out what the smeg those movies are supposed to be about and also why I would wanna see them when I can just see the “strong-young-female-hero-fighting-Orwellian-fascist-in-the-future” shtick done much better in movies like The Hunger Games.