The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)
Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Plot: As the 13 districts of Panem unite and the civil war between the districts and the Capitol reaches its most destructive and deadly, reluctant leader of the rebellion Katniss Everdeen must risk everything she holds dear to bring about an end to President Snow’s tyrannical reign of terror and bring about a new Panem.

Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

This time last year Mockingjay Part 1 left off with the rebel cause gaining more and more momentum. Katniss Everdeen was still being used as a poster girl by President Coin and Plutarch Havensbee, Finnick and Annie were reunited, Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket were adjusting to a dreary, sober existence underground in District 13, Peeta Mellark was still under the influence of the Capitol’s brainwashing, and Gale Hawthorne, predictably, was still sulking over his unrequited love for Katniss.

Now Katniss and co. are back again for the ultimate showdown against President Snow and the Capitol in the final film of the series: Mockingjay Part 2; adapted from Suzanne Collins’ young adult trilogy of the same name. Marching on the Capitol, taking on Panem’s sadistic game makers for a final time and overthrowing everyone’s hidden agendas, the final installment of The Hunger Games, set against the grey backdrop of a cold and wintery Panem, is its most dark, deadly and destructive yet.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.

While Peeta is still restrained in 13’s hospital with the medics trying to figure out how to ‘un-hijack’ him, Katniss and Gale go to district 2 to help capture the Capitol’s weapons arsenal. While Katniss grows tired of the war and is haunted by the innocent civilians killed, Gale is convinced that his and Beetee’s plan will work, and counts the dead civilians as nothing more than collateral damage.

After being shot by one of the loyalists, Coin and Havensbee deem Katniss too valuable as the face of the rebellion to be out fighting on the streets and she is ordered to stay in 13. But, a tip-off from Johanna at Annie and Finnick’s wedding about a hovercraft taking medical supplies to the front line gives Katniss a chance to escape her underground prison and join the rebel armies, now being led by Commander Paylor of District 8. Reunited with Gale and Boggs, and soon joined Finnick and Peeta, the group are teamed up with director Cressida and her crew again as part of the rebel’s Star Squad, an elite group of rebel soldiers who will trail far behind the army and be the onscreen face of the war. But, with the streets lined with booby traps known as ‘pods’ including tidal waves of tar, unmanned machine guns, ‘mutts’ and landmines – all created by gamemakers – along with hidden agendas, double dealing and cold blooded murder, the Capitol has never been so dangerous. Katniss must learn who her true friends and allies are, and how to survive in this new Panem, where the only person she has to protect is herself.

In the previous films we have had some sort of comic relief in one way or another, be it Effie and her foibles, Haymitch and Katniss arguing, or Johanna and her sarcastic nature, but Mockingjay Part 2 is unflinchingly grim and hard hitting and, while only being rated as a 12A/PG13, really puts the audience through the wringer. While Panem’s civil war may take place in a futuristic, dystopian world, Francis Lawrence’s depiction of war is one that we are all too familiar with, bearing a frightening resemblance to the images of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ in the Middle East that have filled our news broadcasts daily for the past 14 years.

This isn’t to suggest that the film bad, because it’s actually more like a movie of two halves.

In among the rapidly rising body count and underhanded political power struggles, the performances of stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta are outstanding, and Donald Sutherland plays dictator President Coriolanus Snow with a chilling precision; reinforcing why he has become such a hated cinematic figure over the past few years. Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin and Jena Malone as Haymitch, Effie, Finnick and Johanna were also exceptional despite limited screen-time and barely being given the chance to develop an emotional bond with the audience in this particular installment.

With the final book being split into two films there was the potential for as little plot as possible to be left out but the film focuses so much on the efforts of the Star Squad in the Capitol that it leaves out almost all of the action in District 13. For example, while the book explores Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through Johanna training to join the rebel armies and suffering flashbacks to her torture in the Capitol, that entire sub-plot is left out of the film. At the same time, Katniss suffers with depression and the pair form an unlikely bond that gets them through their nightmares in District 13, but almost all treatments of mental illnesses were cut from the big screen. Beetee and Gale’s plan for capturing the Capitol’s military in District 2 was also poorly explained in favour of big explosions and special effects, as is Gale and Coin’s involvement in Prim’s death and the subsequent termination of Gale and Katniss’s friendship. Katniss also finds and unlikely ally in Snow following Prim’s death, but again that meeting is over as quickly as it started and we are left wondering if Snow really was telling the truth.

The pacing of the film is also a little off, with the battle scenes in the Capitol being stretched to their limits, and beyond. The ending of the film, which fast-forwards a few years to Katniss and Peeta enjoying a happy life in what was District 12 with their two children is rushed and fails to capture the audience in the same way the book did. The fates of the other characters are either surmised in a dozen or so words, as is the case of Annie, Gale and Katniss’ mother, or ignored completely as is the case with Haymitch, Beetee, Johanna and Effie.

So, while Mockingjay Part 2 does bring about the conclusion of what has undoubtedly been one of the biggest and most significant film franchises of recent years, it does so in a clumsy and roundabout way, and fails to match up to the high standards of its predecessors. The acting, of those who actually get more than two minutes screen time, is superb despite the script being so lacking and so much potential being wasted. The wintery backdrop and the realistic depiction of urban civil war sets the dark and gritty tone for this film but it still fails to properly deal with the aftermath and psychological effects of war, leaving us wandering out with more unanswered questions than we went in with.

Ultimately, one of the most anticipated films of the year has fallen victim to its own hype and high expectations, resulting in a fairly satisfying conclusion to this epic saga, but still with a lot left to be desired.

Score: 16/24

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