Over the last near four years, The Hunger Games franchise begat the true birth of YA novel adapted pictures that have continued with diverging and maze running. Perhaps more importantly, it gave the masses Jennifer Lawrence who’s gone onto quite an impressive career thanks to this series and David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the upcoming Joy. It also gave its studio Lionsgate a serious cash cow and that explains the decision to divide the final installment Mockingjay into two parts. They did so because they knew the cash cow was about to graze and last year’s Part 1 felt incomplete. That picture didn’t feel so much as half a film. Instead it often felt unnecessary and slowly paced with filler where they didn’t need to be. Mockingjay – Part 1 was light on action and often too grim, dark, and plodding for its own good.
Some of those same tenets hold true for Part 2 (the first hour drags a bit), but this experience feels much more satisfying and sends the franchise off with competence. We pick up where we left off with Lawrence’s Katniss fervently marching towards the Capitol to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland, still relishing his villainous role). There is still a love triangle between the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, whose acting here is better than we’ve seen before) and hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth), though we correctly sense how it will turn out eventually. And Katniss is still being used by District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) for propaganda purposes as her motives are constantly in question. The goals of Katniss are undeniably noble while we’re not so sure about the President she’s working for.
Part 2 ups the adventure quotient and director Francis Lawrence is serviceable at delivering these sequences. One in an abandoned subway system with some freaky looking creatures is particularly well-constructed and suspenseful. Yet the real suspense lurks with what Katniss will do once reaches her nemesis President Snow and whether he really is the baddest of the bad guys.
The dynamic between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale has been a running theme throughout these movies. A common complaint has been the underwhelming acting of Hutcherson that sort of makes you root for Gale more than you should. It’s not a notion I disagree with. Here, however, Peeta’s struggle with the mind tricks Snow heaped upon him adds a fascinating dimension. In one segment, he tells Katniss “You should cuff me…” and he means in the literal restraint form with zero shades of grey.
As for various performances, Lawrence again shows she was meant for this role and brings an emotional heft that elevates the material. Moore, Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson as returning mentor Haymitch are all pros. Philip Seymour Hoffman is here in limited screen time, which is probably due to his tragic death nearly two years ago. There are a couple of scenes where he should obviously be in it. Elizabeth Banks is given a couple scenes as franchise favorite Effie.
For the most part, Mockingjay – Part 2 is about getting down to the business of Katniss exacting her revenge. And that thirst for revenge only grows during the fairly well-paced proceedings taking place here. The body count piles up. The stakes grow higher and everything feels urgent in a way that it didn’t and really couldn’t in Part 1. Having never read the Suzanne Collins books which these Games are adapted from, I don’t know about the complaints I’ve picked up about a disappointing ending for the series. The actions of Katniss in the third act worked for me and the action displayed here is pretty good stuff. If there’s a quibble to be had, it’s that the first two Hunger Games films had more of a sense of humor and there was fun to be had. The original actually felt rather fresh and 2013’s Catching Fire brought the series to a creative high. It stands as easily as the finest picture of the quartet. The final two are considerably bleaker in tone, but word is that faithfully follows what Collins brought her readers. As I wrote in my review of Part 1, there’s no actual “hunger games” happening anymore in these last two entries. Thankfully, Part 2 concludes The Hunger Games franchise in a mostly sufficient manner.
*** (out of four)