You can never tell which movie franchise will become a genuine phenomenon. There is no full proof formula for success, and sometimes franchises succeed or fail based purely on chance. After all, who would have thought that a story about a dystopian future where kids are annually put into an arena and forced to kill each other for survival would have become a phenomenon? The first Hunger Games surprised a lot of people, both because of the talent of its leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence, and the harsh brutality of the world it depicts considering it was marketed towards a young audience. The movie series has dominated pop culture for the past five years, and launched/reinvigorated the careers of a lot of talented actresses and actors. Now, the story of Katniss Everdeen comes to a conclusion with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, but is it the ending the franchise deserves?
In the climactic chapter of The Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her fellow revolutionaries from District 13 take the fight straight to the Capital, determined to deliver a final blow to the despicable President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Accompanied by her long time friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth, fellow Hunger Games survivor Finnick (Sam Clafflin), brainwashed love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a host of other allies, Katniss will have to navigate the dangers of the Capitol and make some tough decisions to finally end the tyrannical reign of the man who ruined her life, and free the citizens of Panem once and for all.
In the tradition of other final books in series being split into two films, (Harry Potter, Twilight) Mockingjay Part 2 wastes no time in throwing you immediately into the action, having already done most of the necessary build-up and exposition in the previous films. Most of the film is one big climax, and it’s hands down the most action-packed Hunger Games films to date. There’s a great chase scene that takes place in the sewers where the characters are being chased by mutated creatures, and it’s really tense, especially knowing that no character is safe since this is the final movie. Make no mistake, a fair amount of characters don’t make it out of this one alive, and for the most part the movie does a great job of making each important death feel impactful, except for one towards the end which happened a little too fast for you to even fully comprehend what happened.
One of the things that always differentiated The Hunger Games from other YA book adaptations is that it had something important to say about class warfare, political manipulation and the nature of power and those themes are definitely brought up here, especially in the film’s last act. Katniss plays an important role in the revolt, but she is still ultimately a pawn that the people who are really in power use to achieve their goals, except for at the end of the movie when she makes a choice that has the most positive effects in the grand scheme of things, but also makes her very unpopular in the process. A lot of people might feel that the ending is unsatisfying, or feel that it makes a lot of what happened before seem pointless. However, it is the ending that makes the most amount of sense in context, and will make audiences think the most when they finish watching. Not every movie has to end with the hero defeating evil and saving the world, especially not a movie as morally grey as this one. Additionally, Mockingjay Part 2 spends little time dwelling on the love triangle aspect of the franchise (which almost derailed the last movie) and focuses entirely on the fight against the Capitol.
As someone who has read the books, I can attest to the fact that this is pretty much an exact replica of the second half of Mockingjay, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The book had a lot of flaws, flaws that the filmmakers did not see fit to rectify in the adaptation. The biggest of these being that a lot of the action scenes involve a fair amount of characters we have never been introduced to until this last movie. When Katniss reaches the Capitol, she is assigned to a squad comprised of some familiar faces (Gale, Finnick, Peeta), but mostly of people whose names you will not have time to remember before they are unceremoniously killed off, which removes a lot of the tension from the early action scenes. Another downside to the film’s stringent following of the book is that there’s very little screen time for many of the secondary characters that played major roles in the franchise up to this point. Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jenna Malone and Jeffrey Wright are in the movie for so little that you could almost consider them as cameo appearances. The book is entirely in Katniss’ perspective, which explains why those characters were not present, but the movie was not subject to that same limitation, and it would have been nice to see those characters more involved in the story.
Jennifer Lawrence is her usual awesome self here, but it’s Josh Hutcherson as Peeta who really steals the film. In many ways, he’s given the hardest material to work with, having to essentially reboot a character the audience already liked, while also having to convey the various psychological problems the character is going through because of the events of the previous film. I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more great performances from him in future projects. Hutcherson’s great performance only makes Liam Hemsworth seem even more like a block of wood; reasserting that he is doomed to live in his brother’s shadow for a long time to come. Donald Sutherland is as detestable as ever as President Snow, cementing his position as one of the greatest movie villains in recent memory. Sutherland made a character that is almost exclusively shown sitting down and talking seem threatening and terrifying, and a character you couldn’t wait to see get his comeuppance. Proper respect must also be paid to the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, as this is the last movie he filmed before tragically passing away. Since he did not finish filming, there are certain parts where it is noticeable that he was added in through after-effects, but it’s never distracting.
Ultimately, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is a very satisfying conclusion to the franchise and will please fans of the books and those who just watch the movies. Although it never tries to fix the missteps of its source material, and under uses a lot of its all-star cast, the tense action scenes, solid emotional moments and intelligent ending make this the second best movie in the series behind Catching Fire. There’s no telling which big franchise will come out of nowhere to become a runaway success next, but The Hunger Games movies certainly were great entertainment while they lasted, and Mockingjay Part 2 secures its legacy in movie history.
Final Grade: 8/10