Back in 2012, audiences around the world were first introduced to young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Living in a dystopian future where teenagers are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the upper class, Katniss survived the games along with a young man named Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Audiences were then taken back to the world of the Hunger Games the following year, with Katniss and Peeta thrown back into the arena. Shit hit the fan, there were some explosions and most of the tributes got out alive. Last year, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was released, which was more of a war film than the first two were, and it left us with quite the cliffhanger. Now, the time has come for Mockingjay - Part 2, the finale to this beloved series of movies. But does the series end with its greatest film yet? Not exactly.
There's not a big time gap between Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2. In fact, there's barely even a gap. We begin in District 13, President Coin (Julianne Moore) preparing to invade the capitol. Katniss is growing tired of shooting propaganda videos, wanting to actually go out to the front lines and follow through with the many promises they've been making recently. Not only that, but she wants to take down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) once and for all, although that is not a simple task. With the help of Finnick (Sam Clafin), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta, who has recently been brainwashed into wanting to kill Katniss, she makes her way to Snow, armed and dangerous. But Snow is prepared for her. Traps have been set up. Traps that were intended to be used in various hunger games. Traps designed to kill.
When Mockingjay Part 2 first started, the transition between films was slightly jarring. We open slowly and quietly, Katniss getting the brace around her neck removed and attempting to talk, despite having swelling all throughout her throat. The scene itself is fine, but it's no way to open a movie. It doesn't feel like an opening. Mockingjay Part 2 never once feels like its own film. It's the continuation of a story and there's no transition. Films like The Hobbit trilogy and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were all continuing stories, but I could watch the final part of those films on their own. It's a strange experience watching Mockingjay Part 2 on its own. It just doesn't feel right.
Because of this, the first fifteen or so minutes felt a little rocky. The film failed to absorb me right away. Once it did, however, the film is rather entertaining. It doesn't manage to top the first two movies, but it does top the first Mockingjay, that's for sure. I expected this though. The Mockingjay book, and I mentioned this in my review of the first film, is not that good. It's a tedious read that felt incredibly rushed. Since the world is a cruel place, of course the most rushed of the Hunger Games books gets made into two movies. Thankfully, the screenwriters and the director managed to put together something dark, haunting and exciting. The two part film manages to out-shine the mediocre book in almost every way.
While the first Mockingjay was light on action, this time around we get an action oriented movie, and it certainly works in the film's favour. The film is nearly two and a half hours in length, but it never stops. Once you get past the first fifteen minutes, the pace is always moving forward. It's always hurtling towards its next objective, and filling up this runtime are some jaw dropping action sequences. It's brutal and unforgivingly so. The first three films are rather tame in comparison to the acts of violence shown in this film, and I love it. It puts the characters into scenarios that feel unsafe. You can always sense the danger, even in the scenes where the characters are supposedly safe. As an audience member, you just can't be sure.
Without delving into spoilers, there's a sequence towards the middle of the film that's one of the greatest scenes in this entire franchise. It starts out in a dark underground location, the characters hearing noises as they attempt to escape without making a sound. It had my heart pounding and my fists clenched. It's a nail biting scene that's followed up by the most shocking, unsettling and original action set piece in the whole film. It's been a while since I read the book and so I couldn't remember it in detail, but boy was this sequence good. Forgetting the book added to the thrills.
The relationship between Katniss, Peeta and Gale was something I really liked about the first three films. They managed to explore it rather well, yet they always held back from creating a love triangle. The Hunger Games wasn't a franchise that needed romance. It's certainly there, but it's never the central aspect of the movie, and even when there's time dedicated to showing it, it never truly comes across as something you'd see in, say, Twilight. The relationship between the three of them was always done well, and until this film's third act, it's done well here too. Obviously, I can't discuss these problems in this review, but much like I did with Spectre, a spoiler-filled article is coming after this film's opening weekend, so stay tuned for that. I have plenty to discuss.
Speaking of Peeta, when we last caught up with him, he was tied to a bed, pushing violently against his restraints. With Mockingjay Part 2, the violent maniac we were teased with never comes to light. There are certainly some moments where he has bursts of anger, and for the entire runtime he's certainly an unpredictable character, but his mayhem is never followed through with. He's always on the verge of causing a lot of pain to the people he loves, but hardly anything ever comes of it. I was hoping the movie would deviate from the books slightly, but no. Peeta's torture, brainwash and rescue hardly played a significant role in this film. He's just good ole Peeta.
Unfortunately, and I will delve into this in more detail with my spoiler discussion, the relationship between Katniss and some of the other characters doesn't end on a particularly high note. It's not that the scenes themselves are sad or dark (some of them are quite happy), but it's just that their relationships are never explored as much as they could have been. Gale is hardly seen at all in the film's final half an hour, Prim gets barely any screen time and the villainy of President Snow isn't felt as much as it was in the previous films.
That being said and done, what I did like about this film was the wrap up to Katniss' arc. It is, after all, her story. It's told from her point of view. Jennifer Lawrence is as brilliant as ever and her character feels as though she's significantly changed in comparison to the start of the first movie. You can feel her development, and her story wraps up nicely. She's working alongside some great talent, including the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose absence in this film is unavoidably felt, and the always sensational Julianne Moore, yet she still manages to steal most of the scenes she's in. This is her franchise. She owns it. And I love it.
To sum up, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 ends the franchise on an imperfect high note. It doesn't manage to top the first two films of the franchise, but it's still an exciting and action packed installment that will have you hooked from start to finish.
3 1/2 Stars