The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (★★★)

hunger_games_mockingjay__part_two_ver20The franchise has finally come to an end. What began in The Hunger Games and begun wrapping up with the unnecessarily bifurcated The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is now over. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 suffers from being only part of a whole, but it’s the superior part, heavy on tension and decidedly a more adult outing. It’s personally my second favorite of the franchise, second only to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but it’s hardly without problems, so perhaps I’m slightly damning with faint praise. It’s too long, poorly paced, and ends with somewhat of a whimper. That being said, it still somehow feels satisfying. Credit to director Francis Lawrence for overcoming these obstacles, particularly in sequences that ratchet up the tension (and recall the Alien/Aliens franchise, but a bit more on that later) to previously undone levels in the series. Of course, the MVP here once again is Jennifer Lawrence, who knows this character by heart and continues to be our entryway into the story. This is probably her best performance in the franchise, and if not on the level of some of her more “serious” work, it’s still quite good. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is clearly made to satisfy fans, and while I really wish that we had just gotten one Mockingjay film, this does right some of the wrongs from last time out. If you love this series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 will delight, but even if you don’t, you might still find things to like here.

This will be hard for those unfamiliar with the franchise to pick up, I concede that. We pick things up immediately after the conclusion of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, where the brainwashed Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has been rescued and immediately attacked Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence). The rebels begin trying to deprogram Peeta, with limited success, while Katniss wants revenge on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) for doing this to him. The rebels are slowly approaching the capital and their President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to keep Katniss as just propaganda, but she has other plans. Soon, after a tip from fellow rescued survivor Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), she is off on a mission to assassinate Snow, joined by a select few, including new allies and old friends like Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin). From there, it’s a dangerous trip to try and end this bloody war, with both sides willing to do almost anything to stop the other, and that’s not even including the unpredictability of Peeta on the battlefield. If you’ve read the books, I’m sure you know what to expect, but there’s potentially some surprises in store for those who haven’t…

thumbnail_22642Once again, this is by and large the Jennifer Lawrence show, and rightly so. She’s the moral compass of the story, its heart and soul, so it makes perfect sense. In previous installments, supporting players like Elizabeth Banks or Stanley Tucci have stolen the show, but they’re reduced to mere token cameos here. Lawrence is front and center, a woman on a mission…a woman on fire, if you will. There’s less of her charisma on display than ever before, but it’s the nature of this story causing that, not her. Liam Hemsworth gets more to do than usual, and that’s nice to see, even if his character isn’t all that interesting. Josh Hutcherson is in and out of the story for the first half, but then he becomes a central figure, again delivering a solid performance. Julianne Moore gets to have some fun with her character in this conclusion, while Donald Sutherland does the same. Jena Malone is an underused spark plug here, with the same being said of Sam Claflin to a lesser extent, while the likes of Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman are basically wasted. Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Paula Malcomson, Willow Shields, and Jeffrey Wright are again part of the supporting cast, with newcomers including Gwendoline Christie. Still, it’s all about Lawrence, who shines once again.

Director Francis Lawrence has become a more confident filmmaker with this franchise, and while he still sometimes struggles with pacing (more evident here than in Catching Fire, for example), he does have a visual sensibility that’s hard to argue with. He also utilizes cinematic homages effectively, such as an underground sewer sequence that references scenes from many of the Alien/Aliens films. Scribes Peter Craig and Danny Strong I’m sure were told to keep as much from the book as possible, and that weighs things down, but Lawrence probably should have exercised a bit more sway in the editing bay than he did. He also rushes through certain spoiler type events that I wished he’d focused in on more, but at almost 140 minutes long, I also didn’t want the movie to be any longer. There’s a solid score from James Newton Howard on display here, and that helps make this feel even more like an important conclusion to a saga. Had Mockingjay just been one nearly three hour film, we could have gotten something special. Instead, we got a slightly underwhelming first part and an effective second part. Not ideal, but I suppose I’ll take it.

Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is an effective end to a surprisingly solid franchise, especially when you remember that it’s based off of a Young Adult series of novels. YA is rarely my thing, but I suppose these films are an exception. If you love Lawrence in this role, you’ll be thrilled with this movie, while folks who have sat through the last three will no doubt be curious how it all ends. A few might be disappointed, but I think the majority of folks will be very satisfied with this one. It’s not an unqualified success and the flaws stick out at times, but the final product is worth recommending. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 wraps things up in a way that will please without requiring another dip into this universe anytime soon…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!