Mockingjay, Part 2 is a satisfying finish to a solidly good-but-not-great film series

It’s an unpopular opinion, to be sure, but I’ve always loved Mockingjay the best of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. Indeed, it’s a book that is different enough from the first two installments that it could easily have been a standalone novel with just some minor tweaks—and would perhaps have been stronger for it; certainly Catching Fire suffers more than a little from middle book syndrome, but also from too-much-like-the-first-book syndrome, and The Hunger Games could probably all have been condensed into a hundred pages or so. Alas, we live in an epoch of YA book trilogies and an age of turning book trilogies into blockbuster movie tetralogies, so Mockingjay Part 2 is necessarily imperfect. Still, it’s a good movie and a great finish to the series. It almost does the book justice.

The film begins with Katniss testing out her voice for the first time since being strangled by Peeta at the end of Mockingjay Part 1, and this is an excellent, if just a bit too on the nose, opening for a story about a young woman finding her voice. Things quickly get on track, though, and Mockingjay Part 2 is off at a relentless pace towards the ending; it doesn’t feel like almost two and a half hours when it’s over.

Mockingjay Part 2 really shines in its action scenes, which are well-thought-out and deployed at nicely spaced intervals in the film. Of these, by far the best is the long sequence in the sewers beneath the Capitol as Katniss and company try to make their way to President Snow’s mansion so that Katniss can assassinate him. It’s an absolutely harrowing journey, and it manages to be chaotic and tense as well as carried out with obvious purpose. The unleashing of the mutts and the struggle to escape from them was a wonderful incorporation of straight-up horror elements to great effect. It all unfolds perhaps a little too methodically, but as a stylistic choice this works, and it’s reflective of the general visual and tonal melodrama of both of the Mockingjay films.

Speaking of the visual style of this film, it’s very clearly a war movie. Things are grey and dark and gritty and grim, and the violence is—while it’s kept pretty strictly PG-13—enough to be both visually striking and emotionally affecting. The several major character deaths in the film were all handled in ways that implied the awfulness of their ends while never looking right at it, and this is accomplished without feeling coy or disingenuous. It’s a well-considered situation where less really is sometimes more, and in an era of increasingly graphic trauma and death being acceptable to show in film, Mockingjay does a masterful job of showing how much power mere implication can still exert.

Some of the dialogue is a little stilted, and franchise fatigue seems to be lurking just around the slightly frayed corners of some of the main actors’ performances. In particular, Katniss seems bone-weary in this installment in a way that feels like more than just Jennifer Lawrence’s good acting, but it’s not obvious enough to ruin the movie.

What stood out to me more than that was the sad underuse of so many of the secondary and tertiary characters. Katniss’s mother and sister barely appear, which lessens what should be nothing short of complete emotional devastation in the third act. Finnick and Annie’s wedding is similarly rushed and causes similar third act emotional problems. Jena Malone turns in a potentially powerful performance as Johanna Mason, only to have it feel, in the final presentation, as if large portions of it were left on the cutting room floor. The same can be said for Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, both of whom don’t get nearly enough screen time. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch, of course, is at times notably missing from places where he might have played a significant part, which made me sad all over again over the actor’s untimely death.

Some of the very small roles were practically nonexistent. During production, much was made of Gwendoline Christie appearing in Mockingjay, but she only had a role in one relatively small scene early in the movie. Stanley Tucci only showed up momentarily in a couple of Capitol broadcasts, and I don’t think the surviving tributes Beetee and Enobaria even got lines.

The biggest complaints I’ve seen about the film so far, though, have been regarding the execution of the Katniss-Gale-Peeta love triangle throughout the film and the ending of it in general, and I must say I don’t share these criticisms.

While the love triangle did take on increased significance in this final film, I think it was appropriately done and sensitively handled so as not to infringe too much on the other ideas and themes that Mockingjay examines. I could have done without the slightly creepy conversation between Gale and Peeta where they were negotiating a sort of truce while they thought Katniss was sleeping; I’m never a fan of men talking about a woman as if she’s their property, and there’s definitely a kind of proprietary tone here as Gale and Peeta agree that they’ll wait for Katniss to choose between them, as if she doesn’t have any other choices. Katniss’s feelings, on the other hand, were shown beautifully, and it’s easy to follow and relate to Katniss’s emotional arc.

I’ve seen some moaning about the lack of an epic ending, but I can’t help but simply dismiss that as a silly and wrongheaded grievance put forward by people who appear to have missed the point of The Hunger Games series entirely. It turns out that it’s fundamentally anti-fascist, actually, and it’s at its heart a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion. The ambiguity of its ending is essential and, frankly, beautiful, and while it’s well-done in the film I felt that it could have been, if anything, more bittersweet.

All that said, I thought I’d cry more in this movie, but the only thing that really brought the tears was that damn cat.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I remain disappointed in the look of the mutts. The use of the faces and features (and perhaps the actual dead bodies) of people Katniss knows was an incredible bit of psychological horror in the books, and it’s too bad that none of the movies managed to capture that.
  • Tigris was very close to how I imagined her when I read the book. A+ casting, costuming, and make-up.
  • I hated the casting of Sam Claflin as Finnick, but he really pulled it off this film.
  • I love Effie so much, and of all the underused characters in this movie, she was the one whose absence I felt most keenly.
  • I love the visual language of the scene of Snow’s execution. It reminds me a lot of the early scenes in Rome in Julie Taymor’s 1999 Titus (which is a great film—go watch it), and there are a lot of interesting parallels between Katniss’s and Titus Andronicus’s respective positions as potential kingmakers. I feel like there’s no way this is accidental, and someone should definitely write a scholarly piece on this.

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