The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 2 (2015)

12 Nov

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Previously on Smith’s Verdict…

From the “Mockingjay—Part 1” review—“[Mockingjay—Part 1”] is hard to criticize except to say it’s not a complete film. I’m rating it three stars, with it amounting to an optimistic ‘incomplete’ status. It’s just a film leading us into ‘Part 2,’ and is it is, it’s worthwhile for audiences and fans of the original source material. […] ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ has the potential to be great.”

I get why “Mockingjay,” the third book in the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins, was split into two movies. For one thing, it’s a long book, and only the biggest “Hunger Games” fans would pay to see a 3+ hour long movie based on it. And for another, making two films was an opportunity for the studio to make double the amount of money it would make if it were just one film. (It’s a move that I honestly think is unnecessary—see the unfortunate mess the “Divergent” series is in.) Yes, it is a long book, but most readers will agree it moves at a snail’s pace. I give credit to the writers for adapting it as close to the source material as they could to please the fans, but I think “Mockingjay” would have been stronger as one film, if they took a few elements from “Part 1” (including the ending) and trimmed a little bit of “Part 2,” “Mockingjay” would have been as strong as “The Hunger Games” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

With that said, “Mockingjay—Part 2” is a solid conclusion to what has always been a riveting film series. It’s well-paced, it ties up loose ends, and it ends brilliantly (I’ll get to that later). This entry is bleaker than the other two, which is necessary, since it takes us to the fight to the end between dystopian rule and rebellion. Not everything is going to be easy; if it were, there wouldn’t be as many deaths.

“Part 2” of course picks up where “Part 1” left off, with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after being rescued from the devious Capitol, unexpectedly choking his former lover, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Peeta has been brainwashed to believe that everything the Capitol is doing is largely because of Katniss’ actions. Distressed by this, Katniss agrees to join a group assault on the Capitol, so she can finally confront and possibly assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

One of the things that strikes me about this film is how complicated it is in its story. Peeta believes Katniss is the cause of so much destruction and is only making the Capitol worse. What’s strange is, in a way, he’s right. But Katniss does what she does in the name of survival and is trying to hold on to what she has, as well as a good moral center—but the problem is, she doesn’t always know what’s best and even though she sometimes goes against what she’s told to do by her allies, she knows her allies’ advice isn’t the best decision either. That is a strong asset to this movie—it shows the complications of doing the right thing in this corrupt, violent society, and it’s never clear exactly what the right thing is. What matters in this world are survival and holding onto your moral center as much as possible.

This is as much a credit to Jennifer Lawrence’s brilliant work as an actress, but I like how you can see Katniss’ inner struggle to do what she can and must in this insane world she didn’t make. On top of that, she’s made up to be a symbol to the media—someone who did something rebellious and paved the way for the Resistance. So now, the President of the Resistance, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), wants to use her as a decoy for others to move in ahead of her, but as the raid continues, she’s less interested in becoming a martyr and a decoy than becoming a savior and a heroine. And then, when something horrible happens to one of her loved ones, you’re not sure how she’s going to react/retaliate (that is, unless you read the book).

Other critics complain that “Mockingjay—Part 2” starts off at a slow pace. On the one hand, I can see what they mean. But on the other hand, I don’t mind because I see the turmoil these people are going through before the big raid on the Capitol, and it’s fascinating to see how their minds work. This film needed that time to build things up, so I could feel what they were feeling. And no, there isn’t a lot of action (and a few action scenes are scattered far apart), but I think people misunderstand—this isn’t the epic-battle conclusion in the same way “The Return of the King” was for “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Deathly Hallows” was for “Harry Potter”; it’s still a conclusion, but it’s one that uses wits instead of weapons. The final half-hour of the film isn’t a big, bombastic action climax—it’s a battle of brains. It leads to an unexpected resolution that I honestly commend this film for delivering us instead of taking the easy way out.

If you read my reviews of the previous “Hunger Games” movies, you know I’m not a fan of Gale (Liam Hemsworth). So, something I was interested in while seeing this final chapter was how this love triangle between him, Katniss, and Peeta was going to work out. I won’t give away what becomes of Gale, but I will say it only reinforces my statement that Gale was an unnecessary character. (But on the plus side, nothing too big was made of the “love triangle”; it’s played in a mellow way.)

The action scenes are very well-done, with solid direction by Francis Lawrence. There are scenes of combat that are brutally tense, but the highlight of the film is an “Aliens”-like sequence in which the rebels fight for their lives in a sewer tunnel against Capitol-trained man-monster things. That was a very chilling scene that had me on the edge of my seat.

I appreciated “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2” for making a tough point about the moral uncertainty of war in the midst of providing a conclusion most of us have been waiting for. It’s not an action-packed thrill ride, but it’s not supposed to be. If you’re willing to dig beneath the surface of the story, you’ll find that it’s saying deeper than expected.

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