Movie review: ‘Mockingjay – Part 2’ ends Hunger Games saga on a grim note

hungergamesfinalheaderHunger Games victor and rebel hero Katniss Everdeen’s journey comes to an end in “Mockingjay – Part 2,” the final film in the Hunger Games saga. We’ve watched Katniss deal with the aftermath of winning the Hunger Games, where a cruel post-apocalyptic government forces teenagers to fight to the death in an arena as punishment for a failed uprising years ago. Katniss then finds herself as the unexpected head of a new rebellion, and the “girl on fire” becomes the “Mockingjay,” a symbol of defiance. However, for the rebels, victory comes with great sacrifice, and Katniss will lose some of those dearest to her in the fight.

“Mockingjay – Part 2” closes out the Hunger Games franchise on a fairly solid but grim note. It doesn’t rise to the same heights as “Catching Fire,” which arguably remains the strongest film in the series, but it quickly establishes itself as a stronger film than “Mockingjay – Part 1,” which felt more like a placeholder in the franchise. Lately Hollywood has been splitting the final books of trilogies into two parts, and the results aren’t always strong. Too much of “Mockingjay – Part 1” felt like filler. However, what’s done is done, and thankfully “Mockingjay – Part 2” improves upon its predecessor.

While I am a big fan of the Hunger Games books and movies, I did not really like the book “Mockingjay,” and it seems a number of other fans didn’t, either. It is, at times, a strange and unsettling book, and it’s different in tone from the other two books in the trilogy. The ending feels rushed and unsatisfactory, and several major character deaths are glossed over, without giving the other characters—or the readers—time to grieve. I was so frustrated with the book I actually threw it across the room after finishing it.

I actually liked “Mockingjay – Part 2” better than the book. I don’t know whether that’s because the film actually handled some of the plot issues better than the book did, or whether some of those issues just bothered me less because I already knew what was going to happen (I think it was probably a little of both). In this film, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a band of rebels into the Capitol, supposedly to shoot propaganda footage to convince the citizens of the Capitol to surrender and prevent further bloodshed. However, the unit ends up drawing heavy enemy fire and Katniss turns the operation into a mission to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end the war once and for all.

Jennifer Lawrence is great, once again, as Katniss; I really can’t imagine any other actress playing this role. There are some other great supporting players: Donald Sutherland is elegantly terrifying as President Snow; Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are great as Katniss’ mentor and stylist, Haymitch and Effie; and Sam Claflin and Jena Malone also are excellent as Finnick and Johanna, two former victors who join the rebellion. Unfortunately, they don’t get as much screen time in this film.

The special effects are good, with some truly terrifying “pods” (high-tech traps) waiting for the rebels in the Capitol. There’s not a lot of down time in this film, or moments of humor. It’s a tense rush to the finish, with some surprising twists along the way.

*Spoiler alert!*

Two parts that bothered me most about the book were the deaths of Finnick and Prim, Katniss’ younger sister. The deaths are covered hastily and without a lot of reflection for these two fan-favorite characters. These deaths are still rough in the movie, but I felt the film covered the significance of their deaths better and gave us some time to process their loss.

I also thought the film did a better job setting up the somewhat shocking ending, where Katniss ends up assassinating the rebellion’s new leader instead of President Snow. It’s up to the viewer to decide if it actually was a morally justifiable decision, but at least to me it felt like the movie made it a little clearer that the rebellion’s new leader was dangerous and could, in time, become just as terrible a tyrant as President Snow.

*End spoiler alert!*

I’m curious to see what other fans of the books, and those who are just fans of the movies, thought of this film. “Catching Fire” remains my favorite film in the franchise, but I did enjoy “Mockingjay – Part 2” more than the book it was based on. The Hunger Games series has offered some timely moral and political themes. The books and the films aren’t always comfortable or easy to process, but I do think they have something important to say. It’s too bad the two films kicking off the franchise are stronger than the films wrapping it up.

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