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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 Movie Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014) movie poster The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

Theatrical Release: November 20, 2015 / Running Time: 136 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Francis Lawrence / Writers: Suzanne Collins (novel and adaptation); Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mallark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Julianne Moore (President Alma Coin), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Mahershala Ali (Boggs), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee Latier), Paula Malcomson (Katniss' Mother), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Natalie Dormer (Cressida), Evan Ross (Messalla), Elden Henson (Pollux), Wes Chatham (Castor), Eugenie Bondurant (Tigris), Sarita Choudhury (Egeria), Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta), Meta Golding (Enobaria), Patina Miller (Commander Paylor), Omid Abtahi (Homes), Joe Chrest (Mitchell), Michelle Forbes (Lieutenant Jackson), Misty Ormiston (Leeg #1), Kim Ormiston (Leeg #2), Gwendoline Christie (Commander Lyme)


The Hunger Games ends its four-year run as Hollywood's dominant YA film franchise with its fourth and final installment, Mockingjay, Part 2. Fittingly launched spring 2012, equidistant from the finales of Harry Potter and Twilight, Hunger Games, adapted from Suzanne Collins' best-selling novels, wore its crown well.
Outperforming both of those benchmark fantasy sagas domestically, these dystopian sci-fi films were well-received by critics and moviegoers alike. Four movies in four years is not enough to give this ending the weight and significance of Harry Potter's comparable two-film send-off. Still, this conclusion undoubtedly leaves a void not just at distributor Lionsgate, whose years of prosperity following two decades of niche irrelevance are unlikely to continue, but in the American film market at large, where the much-anticipated Star Wars revival will fill the opening for blockbuster all-ages entertainment that doesn't involve comic book superheroes.

Mockingjay, Part 2 is a bittersweet farewell. Bitter because like its immediate predecessor, it lacks the impact, allure and excitement of the first two films. Sweet, because those first two movies were outstanding enough for even lesser episodes involving the same characters and universe to hold value above and beyond most teen-oriented cinema.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a mission to assassinate President Snow in franchise finale "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2."

Unsurprisingly since they share a source text, Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, with 74th Hunger Games co-victors and strategically engaged couple Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) suddenly on opposite sides. Peeta has been programmed by the Capitol, the opulent, oppressive ruling party of Panem, to kill Katniss, the face of the people's revolution, the so-called Mockingjay that has been a symbol of hope for the twelve thirteen impoverished, woebegone districts.

Coached by District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final role), Katniss has played the part extraordinarily well, delivering empowering speeches and exposing the unconscionable measures taken by the totalitarian government that gave them adolescent death competitions as reality television.

Katniss continues to be the face of the revolution as instructed, but she has her own plan to end this age of tyranny: to personally assassinate Panem's President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She relays this covert self-devised plan to her company: the offbeat squad of anarchists with whom she recorded her "propos" (propaganda short films). Also along for this journey, though often in restraints, is Peeta, who is slowly returning to his former self, but repeatedly needs Katniss to distinguish what has been real about this complex media-driven revolt that began in the second film Catching Fire when former victors participating in the Games took aim at the powers that be.

Calculated resistance leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) eyes the presidency that Snow would leave behind. Scott Calvin? Topo Gigio? No, that's actually Donald Sutherland playing President Snow for the last time.

There is no getting around that the Hunger Games films have been less enjoyable since the Games themselves stopped being a part of them.
It wouldn't have been right for Collins to continue to place Katniss and Peeta in the arena for life-and-death competition that both, for very good reason, vehemently objected. The fact that we could get two distinct and distinctly satisfying stories using this premise was a great feat in itself. A third attempt would have guaranteed stagnancy and staleness. Instead, we're asked to make a great leap from kids and adults killing one another for sport to political unrest and upheaval. Without the foundation so exquisitely laid by the first two movies, it would be very difficult to buy into this new direction and to take a teenager-led revolution seriously and with interest.

Alas, we're so deeply invested in this universe and this heroine that we'll accept whatever Collins has crafted for both, no matter how different it is from what has come before it. That part is kind of admirable. Today's biggest blockbusters almost inevitably succeed on age-old notions of good and bad. Every Marvel movie can be summed up as a do-good superhero/team of superheroes faces large scale adversity, but triumphs. Change "superhero" to "wizard" or "hobbit" and you cover most of the movies that have grossed $300 million or more at the North American box office. The Hunger Games has not entirely abandoned formula, but it has redefined what mass entertainment can be. Movies with an adolescent-centered fanbase have never before laced their stories with such a high degree of social commentary and political warfare.

Whether such material has captivated readers and viewers as much as Katniss' relatable plight, the result of a noble volunteering in her younger sister's place, and her love triangle with Peeta and local heartthrob Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is uncertain. The movies have certainly lost some of their luster by changing gears from violent competition reality television to war zones, resistance, and coups. But they remain thoughtful entertainment with real world relevance. Those inclined to change the channel upon seeing a news report on a foreign country's civil war may find it much easier to be an active participant when it's Katniss vs. the Capitol. Having not read the books, I can't say that this is where I saw the franchise heading or that it's the narrative path I wanted to follow Katniss down. Kudos to Collins for exploring this revolution and getting us hooked enough on other story to mostly continue caring. But it does come at the cost of spending time with characters that have endeared themselves to us (like those played by Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, both of whom hardly feature here).

One of the more noticeable ways in which Mockingjay, Part 2 stumbles is by unleashing the Capitol's "Mutts" on our heroes as they try to survive the heavily booby-trapped Capitol by venturing underground. Upright and less wolf-like than those experienced during the Games, these new zombie-like movie monsters undermine the reality the series has spent years carefully building.
While that action set piece strikes you as particularly egregious, others are better, like the one dropping buckets of deadly, fast-moving oil in the vicinity of our conscientious revolters.

Mockingjay, Part 2 does not have the great dramatic punch you want it to. As it rattles off the names of characters who have perished, you are not filled with sadness and nostalgia, only the wish that these last two movies could have been as compelling, creative, and just plain fun as their predecessors. This final installment at least feels sufficiently eventful and self-contained, with a beginning, middle, and end. It isn't plagued with the glaring issues that have afflicted other series transforming their final books to two movies (double the returns!). It nonetheless requires the past movies to provide any real emotional payoff, falling just short of fully satisfying with some hacky, tacky turns it does not suitably sell. Still, better to have reached those lofty heights at all than to stand as average to slightly above average entertainment that many similarly-themed and far less profitable YA novel adaptations have ended up as.

Related Reviews:
The Hunger Games The Hunger Games: Catching Fire The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
Now in Theaters: Secret in Their Eyes Spectre Brooklyn Trumbo Love the Coopers Creed
Jennifer Lawrence: Winter's Bone Silver Linings Playbook American Hustle X-Men: Days of Future Past
Josh Hutcherson: Bridge to Terabithia The Kids Are All Right Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt The Master The Ides of March | Liam Hemsworth: Paranoia The Last Song
Finales: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

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Reviewed November 20, 2015.

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