by Philip Price
Ultimately, ‘The Hunger Games’ films, as well as the books, are about sacrifice and that this final installment of the film franchise encapsulates this theme to its fullest while still maintaining a clear narrative drive that is moved along by several exhilarating action sequences allows it to be nothing short of wholly fulfilling. In all honesty, as a reader of the books, I don't know that one could have asked for a better interpretation of the novels. Even in retrospect, the splitting of ‘Mockingjay’ into two parts now seems a genuine decision rather than a financial one as it allowed more time to fully grasp the multiple changes and conflicts our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (the ever-steady Jennifer Lawrence), would experience while also allowing plenty of space to develop the idea that both sides of a war use the same kind of propaganda to strike fear into their follower’s hearts. This development, as well as the fact both parts of the ‘Mockingjay’ films were not shackled by the narrative constraints of the actual games, make for a much more involving and complex set of moral decisions and real world repercussions that don't typically apply to young adult literary stories. Whether it be through the casting of the terrific Donald Sutherland as President Snow who makes the overriding threat seem all the more vile as he eloquently executes his intentions of power over the classes of Panem through his politics or the unexpectedly layered Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) that brings about not only an epiphany in Katniss concerning the vicious circle that human beings naturally put themselves in when systems inevitably become corrupted, but also in realizing the necessary differences in the two men in her life that will finally bring about a peaceful decision. As much as ‘The Hunger Games’ series is about sacrifice it is also about holding true to ideals no matter the sacrifice it takes to keep such principles relevant. Some may counter Katniss with the argument that there is no need to fight for ideals if there will be no one left to carry them on and if that is to be the result it seems Katniss thinks we might not deserve to exist at all. It's a bold statement, one that the film’s could have easily smoothed over with a toothless and sentimental final act, but instead they embraced the complexities and let them play out in an honest sense only making it all the more interesting to watch come to an end.
Boldly, and like the previous installment, ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ opens in media’s res to show Katniss still recovering from Peeta's (Josh Hutcherson) attack. The toll the Capitol experiments have taken on Peeta are clearly beginning to also take a toll on Katniss as Snow has more or less allowed the rebels to have Peeta back so that, if he doesn't kill Katniss, he will at least break down their symbol of hope to where even she has none. Per the character development we've seen prior in these films this attempt only has the opposite effect on Katniss pushing her to do whatever it might take to exact revenge on Snow for what he's done to the boy she's come to care deeply for. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is ever present as he is now a major player in District 13's military strategies against the Capitol. Finnick (Sam Claflin) has married his sweet love, Annie (Stef Dawson), and both Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Haymitch (Woody Harreslon) are still advisers to Coin while Effie (Elizabeth Banks) more or less serves as the symbolic shift in the Capitol perspective of plush, spoiled lifestyles to the acknowledgement of the real plight of the unfairly treated outer districts. Both Prim (Willow Shields) and Katniss's mother (Paula Malcomson) now serve as medics for District 13, putting them on the front lines of the war as they rush in after battle to aid the injured. Managing a handful of other supporting characters including Jeffrey Wright's Beetee, Jena Malone's Johanna Mason, Mahershala Ali's Boggs and Natalie Dormer's Cressida among others the film skillfully guides Katniss and her team to the Capitol in order to allow Katniss to fulfill her destiny. All of these performers do their jobs well, but Hutcherson is particularly effective in the tough arc that Peeta has had to face while real standouts include Claflin's ever-charming Finnick with Harrelson again bringing a natural chemistry and authenticity to the relationships he's developed with Peeta and Katniss and it simply being a treat to see Hoffman on the big screen one last time. This brings us to another major theme in ‘The Hunger Games’ saga that is discussed at some length in this final film and that is not only the predestined fate of Katniss Everdeen, but the actual woman this character has become over the course of four films and the myth those around her have made her out to be.
The trope of "the chosen one" is nothing new and the changing of that rule to an adolescent young woman in the recent wave of young adult novels does little to make us forget that. What allows the story of Katniss to stand apart is not that she never desired to be this "chosen one" (most don't), but that she never changes who she is in order to fit that mold. In this regard, Lawrence's cultural image, as well as her acting ability, lend themselves well to this defiant, but ultimately responsible provider that the character was forced to be at a young age after the death of her father (much like Lawrence was given the weight of a potentially massive franchise at the age of 21). Katniss has always had a burden of sorts on her shoulders and volunteering for her sister at the initial reaping ceremony in the first film was just another way of her exercising that responsibility she felt was hers. It is a decision that snowballed into a hundred other decisions that would eventually place her as the default symbol of defiance against a system that had been in place for decades. For much of the series Katniss is positioned as an object of sorts whether it be as "The Girl on Fire," "The Mockingjay" or the object of darling Peeta's affection. This is something Katniss detests in many ways and Lawrence, who has a penchant for playing things with an air of contempt, makes it clear she is not a fan of the circus it takes to pull off the manipulation that seemingly allows the Hunger Games to feel justified. In this final installment we see the fruits of Katniss's labor finally come to something of a fruition, but even these are not without sacrifice still. As Coin and her team learned in ‘Part 1’ it is best for their cause to simply allow Katniss to be herself and while there is still some hesitation on Coin's behalf in ‘Part 2,’ things more or less go the way Katniss desires them to. For the first time, we see Katniss with the ability to be herself and outspokenly stand for what she truly believes without anyone trying to coach or contain her and that alone is enough for a finale to feel victorious. Layer in the still lingering conflictions of her love for both Gale and the damaged Peeta and there is plenty of meat left for Lawrence to chew on after three films. As she does, and as Hemsworth and Hutcherson share moments of unbridled honesty about their circumstances, this love triangle is brought to an end in not a sappy or even agonizing way, but more a poignant and logical one.
There is much to like about ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ as the overall objective of the narrative is a clear "kill President Snow" mission, but the anticipation of seeing multiple character arcs come to a close, as well as the skillfully executed action scenes moving the pace along at breakneck speed, make for both an epic and satisfying conclusion. Director Francis Lawrence took over this dystopian world from Gary Ross with the second film and has only elevated every element of it since. The production design is clearly meticulous and the scope is as big as ever despite some of the film again taking place in the underground bunker that is District 13. The aforementioned action scenes double as something of a Hunger Games-esque competition as Katniss and her team make their way through a minefield of traps in the Capitol in order to reach Snow. As director Lawrence has to more or less get his characters from one point to another, while including vital character beats in between, he is able to infuse much of the action with a tension and purpose that grants it legitimate weight rather than feeling like obligatory spectacle. One scene in particular in which the team from District 13 that includes Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Finnick, Creesida's documentary team, and Lieutenant Jackson (Michelle Forbes) as they make their way through the sewers beneath the Capitol streets and are chased down by mutations is especially thrilling in an edge-of-your-seat fashion. That it provides something of a large emotional wallop at the end only tends to reinforce just how high the stakes are this time around and that no one is safe. This rule also applies to the general expectations we have of franchise finales in that there must be a large action set-piece that pits the hero against their biggest antagonist in a fight to the finish. This expectation is subverted in ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ by instead delivering a very dour final confrontation between Katniss and Snow that only confirms further the convoluted mind games both sides played to achieve their own agenda. This isn't the clean cut finale where Katniss wins and the bad guys go home and everyone is happy, but because it's not and because it's honest with itself and it's now mature audience it ends up delivering a closure we both deserve and need in this type of blockbuster film.