“The war will still be here tomorrow.”
-Roxanne (Apocalypse Now)
The first Hunger Games was an exercise in drivel. Catching Fire was a whirlwind of action and emotion. Mockingjay- Part 1 felt like the beginning of a good movie. Mockingjay- Part 2 feels like the end of said movie. The Hunger Game franchise has, for me, been full of surprises. I have never read any of the books, so I have nothing to which I can compare them, but it is safe to say Suzanne Collins was writing a series that commented on the perpetual war of the last decade. The Hunger Games as a film series does exactly the same thing and does it well.
We pick up shortly after the end of the Mockingjay- Part 1. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from the attack by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants Katniss to stay behind as the rebel forces have turned the tide and are marching towards the Capital. Katniss, of course, can’t be held in check and secretly joins the rebel army. Her desire for revenge against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) overwhelms her every choice. Mockingjay- Part 2 is an all out war film with Katniss at the center of the battle.
Francis Lawrence takes the director’s chair once again and delivers another wonderfully directed film. He has used action sparingly, and to his credit, he has made this series better. His direction in the first Mockingjay was kind of a revelation for me. The focused shots of Jennifer Lawrence and the bursts of action make for a low key blockbuster. Mockingjay- Part 2 brings another element to the series. Horror. It would be easy to focus on the horrors of war, but here I am talking about actual horror elements. Katniss and her team must make their way through a booby trapped and monster invested Capital. Francis Lawrence brings extremely tense moments to an otherwise simplistic film.
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed Mockingjay- Part 2, I can’t help but wonder what a film that wasn’t cut into two pieces would be like. Part 1 is good because of strong direction, solid writing, and great acting. Part 2 is slightly worse, but only because the story is so flimsy. It’s hard to blame the studio for splitting this into two films. The amount of money that was sure to be made was impossible to pass up, but it is hard not to imagine how much better Mockingjay as a whole film would be. To those who have read the books, this was the movie they least anticipated because the material was so dark and straightforward. Unfortunately, the film plays out the same way. The writers do their best to make the script exciting and incisive, but with such a thin story it’s almost impossible.
Jennifer Lawrence once again dazzles the audience with her ability and charm. It’s hard to imagine an actress who is as flexible as Lawrence. She can bounce between films like American Hustle, X-Men, and Hunger Games. She is impossible to pigeon hole. As Katniss, her greatest achievement was embracing a flawed and thin character and turning into a strong deep female protagonist. Another revelation was Josh Hutcherson who began as by far the worst actor in the series. His performance in the first Hunger Games was absolutely horrendous, but as the series has progressed, so has he. Just like Part 1 rested on the back on Jennifer Lawrence, Part 2 relies heavily on her but also on Hutcherson. The character of Peeta needed to be much more nuanced than any other character in the film, and he pulls it off.
Mockingjay- Part 2 stands out because of its action and direction, and even though its story is poor, its themes are thoughtful and poignant. In a society torn apart by war, The Hunger Games series feels aptly timed. Much like films of the ’70s and ’80s that tried to open the minds of youth to the atrocities of war, The Hunger Games exposes the dangers of an unfettered government and the excuses they make for perpetual warfare. I don’t believe Collins’s novels or writing is on par with George Orwell, but her themes are just as felicitous. What could have easily been turned into a pure blockbuster fare turns out to be an intriguing political commentary on war, surveillance, and American foreign policy. I give credit to the filmmakers of this series for doing the best they could to not water down the political machinations that mirror our own world.