This review contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Brace yourself. The end of The Hunger Games is nigh, and it’s gonna hurt like hell.
At the end of Mockingjay Part 1, we left Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) tearfully watching her sometime lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) thrash against his restraints. District 13 had rescued the captive rebels from the Capitol, but weeks of torture had left them weak, confused, and even dangerous. President Coin (Julianne Moore) was gearing up her army for a new strike against the tyrannical President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) regime, but actually winning the war looked like an impossible dream.
It was a bummer of a place to leave the story for a year, and it’s still a bummer when this movie picks up the action just a little while later. Katniss is recovering physically after Peeta’s unexpected attack, but emotionally she’s a wreck, having lost yet another person to the Capitol’s cruelty. All the pain and suffering she’s been put through for the past three movies have taken their toll, and Mockingjay Part 2 is Katniss’ breaking point – the point where, finally, she decides she’s fed up of being a pawn, and is going to put an end to President Snow, once and for all.
That instantly makes this a better movie than the previous one. Katniss and her fellow rebels are every bit as damaged as they were last time round, but with nothing left to lose, they’re taking the fight to the Capitol. Not that that’ll be easy. As the resistance approaches, Snow evacuates the city and lays a series of traps for them, in effect turning the Capitol itself into one final, fatal arena – complete with cameras ready to broadcast their struggles on live TV. Carnage ensues. After a slow start, Mockingjay Part 2 finds its feet and races to its dramatic climax at breakneck speed.
The action sequences are pretty spectacular. Director Francis Lawrence sidles all the way up to the edge of the 12A rating – and then kicks it over a bit, making room for some really nasty scenes. There might not be much in the way of actual gore, but when people are getting limbs blown or ripped off, you don’t necessarily need to see the blood to feel their agony.
Lawrence makes sure the impact of every violent act is felt; every fallen character gets his or her moment in the spotlight to make sure their sacrifices aren’t in vain, and it never feels gratuitous. This is war, as the movie never stops reminding us, and terrible things happen, and it’s awful, and there’s no real way to win.
Since this is the last movie in the franchise (at least until someone figures out how to make a spin-off work) all of the story’s themes get repeated and clarified. It occasionally feels a bit heavy-handed, to be honest, but then this is a story aimed at children. Given that context, it’s bold to include any kind of political subtext, let alone anything this blatant.
Which isn’t to say Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t have its lighter moments. Where Mockingjay Part 1 was a bleak, aching black hole of a movie that offered very little in the way of hope or joy, Mockingjay Part 2 is more optimistic, and even offers a kind of happy ending. Not for everyone, of course, and it’d be silly to suggest any of these characters could live happily ever after, but a couple of them do at least get some measure of peace, which feels important.
Everything else I want to say about this movie I’ve already said about another movie in the same franchise, really. Jennifer Lawrence is still brilliant, Elizabeth Banks’s Effie and Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch are still a treat (though they don’t get much screentime in this movie), and Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason still steals the show.
Donald Sutherland is particularly well used here, and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig even give him a couple of new scenes that weren’t in the book to underline what a magnificent bastard President Snow really is.
The film is probably a bit too long, especially considering there’s only half a book’s worth of story to cover. And some things probably could’ve been cut without losing too much; you might expect the bit where the rebels hole up at the home of former Games stylist Tigris (Eugenie Bondurant) to be Tom Bombadilled out of existence, for example, but it’s all there. That’s only a minor criticism, though – there really isn’t much to complain about.
Mockingjay Part 2 is a fitting end to a franchise that’s always been emotional, brave, and antagonistic. Even if this is the last movie, it’s a story that deserves to live on, to be revisited over and over again, for years (or generations) to come. Now that her adventure has finally come to an end, Katniss Everdeen can relax. Her place as one of the most important pop culture icons of our time – alongside Luke Skywalker, Buffy Summers, Batman, Frodo, and Spider-man – is assured.