Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two

So I’ve come full circle. When the first Hunger Games came out, I refused to see it (certain friends will remember and mock me if they read this – hi Mark). In my mind, I had seen it done better with Battle Royale, the mad Japanese movie. I’ve since watched all three movies leading up to this, and enjoyed them (mostly), with the finale at turns impressive yet disappointing.

Following on from the horrors of the Hunger Games themselves, young heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to deal with being a figurehead, as revolutionary forces storm Panem’s capital city, with the love triangle of Katniss, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) complicating things.

The post-war Panem, with its reality TV stylings, is a really interesting combination of modern society and dystopic fiction, especially as it’s aimed at teens. This final film manages to hammer this home, with satire taking a back seat to harsh, brutal war, and I was really impressed that director Francis Lawrence doesn’t shy away from exposing younger viewers to war’s many shades of grey. The film makes some wrenching, grim moves during its conclusion, and even though a resolution is reached, as always Katniss can’t really be said to have won – a really mature way of handling YA (young adult) cinema, usually the province of Twilight-level pap.

Jennifer Lawrence continues to show just how good and diverse an actress she is here. Katniss seems to have gone through everything, but Lawrence is excellent as a believable, flawed yet heroic young woman, pulled this way and that but remaining true to herself. If she continues to make such strong character choices in future, she’ll remain one of the best actresses around. Besides her, I wasn’t impressed with the male stars. Other than a few brief scenes in which they express emotion beyond anger or stoic determination, Hutcherson and Hemsworth are quite naff. The latter’s final scene is what Hemsworth must have been crying out for during the whole series, as he finally gets a chance to emote and show some range, but he remains the second best Hemsworth (I refer here to Rush and not Thor).

Hutcherson meanwhile is almost child-like, with a very limited range of expressions (Peeta is either angry, morose, furious or a combination), and I just didn’t buy his tortured, haphazard behaviour (and its resolution). He’s all mopey jawline and not much else, and I just got fed up of him. My feelings about these performances are perhaps swayed by my hate for the love triangle though. The films did their job, and succeeded in getting me infuriated at Katniss’ preference over one guy before I realised how little it mattered. By the end of the film, despite some interesting revelations, I did not give a damn. I wanted more of the supporting cast and Lawrence, and no more of the moping twosome.

Mockingjay_Part_2_PosterSpeaking of supporting cast, the series has some great actors and actresses. Donald Sutherland’s evil Snow was consistently malevolent and disturbing, and his last few scenes here are a welcome chance to see the master manipulator once again. Julianne Moore is also very good as the divisive Coin, whose stark appearance and manner (along with her media savvy at inappropriate times) forms an interesting mirror to Snow. Fittingly, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last ever performance was in this film – the Plutarch is a master manipulator, and Hoffman was able to convey a sense of detached, disdainful amusement at the nonsense swirling around him almost effortlessly. A nice, fitting end to his career, I thought.

I also liked the (cameo) performances, such as Jena Malone’s disturbed Johana, who does more with a few minutes to depict combat stress than Hutcherson in what felt like hours; Stanley Tucci’s nightmare Dermot O’Leary Caesar Flickermann, sadly glimpsed only temporarily; Elizabeth Bank’s annoying but distinctive Effie Trinket; and Natalie Dormer’s gritty war photographer Cressida. I would have liked more of Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch and his cynicism, but then who wouldn’t!

Does the film, having been split into two like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, suffer from being stretched out? At times yes, and no – I liked that the plot got room to breathe, especially with the upheaval facing Panem, but at the same time the pace of this film is glacial – there are only so many scenes of exposition you can take before you drift off. James Newton Howard’s meandering score swells and brings you back to the point, but it’s an open question whether the two films could have been one. One shocking event right at the end is dismissed as soon as it happens, and knowing how big a deal someone involved was to another character, I was really surprised the film just drops it – no time given to reactions when other, lesser events had minutes. It’s like it had to hurtle towards its conclusion, and its Return of the King-style “bye” to everyone.

Thankfully, despite the lack of action for large stretches, the final “games” are disturbingly devious, and the gritty, street level focus with which director Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems depict the Capitol give the film a sense of place the others lacked (either through bad CGI or being underground). I realise I was wrong about the Hunger Games series when it began a few years ago – yes, a lot of it is derivative, and some of it downright boring (the love triangle particularly, but also some of the long, chatty scenes), but its clever post-apocalyptic society and the “games” themselves drew me in, along with performances from Lawrence, Harrelson and Sutherland.

It’s a shame the series ends with a bit of a whimper, but I have to applaud the filmmakers and cast for depicting some parts of the ending and resolution as they did. It takes courage to make a young adult film series that’s this bleak, but I was impressed with it as a whole. And Jennifer Lawrence really elevated these films from something much less – without her, I doubt I’d be writing this review, nor would I have given the films the time of day.

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