The anticipation that comes with the release of the final installment of a massively popular and beloved film franchise is always palpable. The Return of the King, Revenge of the Sith (Star Wars fans, at the very least, were still excited in 2005, and they are numerous), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2; each franchise had the respective studio behind it bombastically announcing the arrival of the final chapter. How would the storyline conclude? Where would characters that audiences had come to love see their journeys end? Here we are once again, this time with the concluding episode of the Hunger Games series, one that has, it should be noted, proven to be refreshingly consistent with respect to the quality of its entries. What does Mockingjay – Part 2 have in store for its begrudging heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and her loyal followers of freedom fighters?
Just as in Mockingjay – Part 1, Part 2 offers a cold opening, both in how no credits are revealed at all before audiences are shown the first frame, and for how tonally cold it is at this point in the story. Katniss is slowly recovering from the attack she suffered at the hands of her brainwashed would-be lover, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), at the end of the previous instalment. The rebellion, of which Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Clafin), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), game designer Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) are a part of, is desperately preparing a final assault on The Capitol, the latter still governed with an iron fist by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Tensions rise as to what strategy is best to shake their enemies, with Katniss expressing reservations about the killing of anybody that supports Snow, while others, Gayle among them, claiming that anyone wearing the opposing side’s colours is fair game. Led by Colonel Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Katniss and a small platoon of soldiers and propaganda filmmakers are to take their symbolic mockingjay behind the front lines, as far away from danger as possible, and continue to film inspiring montages to gain traction with the districts. Katniss, however, has a personal mission on her mind: the assassination of President Snow.
In addition to the aforementioned anticipation that comes along with the release of the last movie in a series, another more important matter altogether is if the filmmakers can tie everything together well enough to make the final moments as satisfying as possible. There is little worse than the sensation one feels after gleefully watching 10 hours of film over the course of a few years, only for the climax to leave a sour taste in one’s mouth. Let it be known, therefore, that director Francis Lawrence and his crew pull out all the stops to provide fans and movie goers at large with a satisfactory final act that not only concludes a massive story involving many characters without ever losing focus on its protagonist, but also keeps very much in tone with its predecessors. What has helped separate the Hunger Games films from the pack is the borderline unrelentingly dour tone expressed through every frame and edit. Through her books, author Suzanne Collins created a dystopian future that doesn’t sound even remotely appealing, to say nothing of poking at humanity’s very sadistic ways of maintaining power structures and institutionally constructed disadvantages. The films, under the helm of Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence, have brilliantly translated that atmosphere onto the silver screen, with everything culminating in Mockingjay – Part 2, a film in which one can easily detect the underlying sense that one false move by the heroes could very well mean the end of all hope.
Cinematography and editing have, since the dawn of cinema, been critical tools in building the language of cinema, as well as the language of each independent movie. The story and tone a film strives to convey relies heavily on those two elements. Mockingjay – Part 2, shot by Jo Willems and edited by the team of Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa, all of whom have collaborated since Mockingjay – Part 1 (Bell and Willems having worked on Catching Fire as well), perform extraordinary work here, lending the picture what many people love to describe as its “immediacy”. Every scene feels just as, if not moreso, important than the last, and every cut to a reaction, an establishing shot, or an explosion advances the story, raising the emotional stakes in the process. Rarely can dour, morose movies be described as beautifully made, but such is the case with Mockingjay – Part 2. One marvels in how expertly crafted the danger is.
What’s more, the movie goes just a bit beyond the story that many will arguably come to expect given everything seen thus far in the Hunger Games saga. It should come as no surprise that one of the dominating themes has been, and remains, the notion of fighting for what feels right, such as justice and equality. Where Mockingjay – Part 2 chooses to usurp expectations somewhat is by delving into the debate about how much one feels the need to do this. What are the limitations should be placed on warfare (if any) to preserve a sense dignity? When do the actions of one’s allies step beyond what one is willing to sacrifice in order to achieve what feel like altruistic goals? The filmmakers intelligently pose these questions to the audience, and depending on the character and the circumstances, the answers vary greatly and will even surprise a few.
Virtually all of the principle cast members continue to deliver the stellar performances audiences have come to expect from them, such as star Jennifer Lawrence (who has come to embody Katniss’ palpable world-weary demeanour with stunning conviction), Sutherland, Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and Moore. The two notables that deserve acclaim more here than during the first episodes are Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. Hemsworth finally gets a proper role for once, after having spent the majority of the previous films as a background character, and his stern (if hopeful) outlook on the war is nicely played. The real revelation, however, is Hutchison. Often criticized as the weak link of the previous chapters, he comes into his own in Mockingjay – Part 2, delivering the most emotionally wrought performance. In a harsh, gritty world, he is a young man unable and unwilling to hold back his emotions. Whereas so many have shut them off, Peeta is the one that reminds those around him and the audience what it means to feel. Hutcherson’s acting may have felt a bit off earlier in the series, but he is honestly quite excellent here.
War film with plenty of spectacle and action, allegory on the psychological and emotional turmoil of warfare, studious character piece; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is on par with the beloved earlier entries in the series, and from a thematic perspective arguably surpasses them. Kudos to everyone involved for properly wrapping up a bold, controversial mainstream franchise replete with brawn and brain.