Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence, Mahershala Ali and Liam Hemsworth in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Murray Close)
It was a mere three years ago that The Hunger Games premiered and made Jennifer Lawrence the biggest star in Hollywood along with her Oscar-winning role in Silver Linings Playbook, released the following month in 2012. That brief time period seems even more stark in the final installment of the saga, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, in which Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen concludes her fight against the autocratic tyrants of Panem and must choose between her two suitors, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Despite the short break between releases of the series, Lawrence and her male co-stars’ characters seem wearier, desperate and defeated. They were essentially kids at the beginning, but the final installment makes it clear that this is no longer true.
All of this may make The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 a bleak, hopeless endeavor, but it is a credit to Francis Lawrence, who has directed the previous two movies, that the film is still a rousing adventure. After the first Mockingjay film substituted character drama for the action that dominated the first two films, the second one is a fine return to form. In particular, the action sequences once Katniss reaches the Capitol are among the most spectacular.
Additionally, the supporting cast of stars remains intact, even if their roles are reduced either because of the narrow focus on the conclusion or, in the case of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, because external events necessitated reducing the role. Hoffman appears thanks to the use of special effects, which are serviceable yet still do justice to the beloved acting titan.
The film may not have enough of either Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) or Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), but their presence is always welcome in order to ensure that no Hunger Games movie goes without characters with silly names and even sillier haircuts. This absurdity is no detriment, however; it deflates the often self-serious tone to allow an undercurrent of levity.
Of the veteran character actors, the one mainstay of the series to maintain a major role in the final installment is Donald Sutherland, who gives the film’s best performance as President Snow, a wily opponent who tears into every line with glee. Sutherland maintains the same mischievous twinkle he first displayed in MASH 45 years ago. Even in the face of certain defeat, he still remains wiser and more cunning than any other character, and viewers should question whether he truly is the villain that the series has always portrayed him to be.
The Hunger Games may be based on a series of Young Adult novels, but what separates it from fluff like the Twilight series and even the expertly-crafted The Maze Runner is that it refuses to minimize the damage done to the characters. It is a depressing commentary on American culture that after more than a decade of our nation engaging in two simultaneous wars, a series of movies aimed at teenagers is the boldest fictional take on post-traumatic stress disorder. This provides a mature complication to the film’s ending, which demonstrates that even those characters who remain alive in the extended coda to the film will always be to some extent broken.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of The Hunger Games series is that Katniss is the film’s hero but never fully the protagonist. She is a pawn in the civil wars of Panem, a symbol for both sides but rarely able to act with full agency no matter how much she attempts to assert it. There are rare moments when her actions truly matter, and the film suggests that – except for one critical decision during the movie’s climax – the war might have ended the same way whether she lives or dies.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is a more than satisfying ending to the series that will please those who have followed the films, except perhaps the most ardent fans of whichever suitor Katniss does not choose. The film may conclude with many of the beloved characters safe and secure for the first time since Katniss made the fateful choice to enter the games, but it does the film injustice to call it a happy ending. This Young Adult series started as a fable for the young, but it ends as a complex cautionary tale for adults.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
In theaters Nov. 20
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