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New Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

Updated on December 11, 2015

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali, Paula Malcomson, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Gwendoline Christie, Natalie Dormer

Were it not for actress Jennifer Lawrence, I don’t think that The Hunger Games movies would have worked as well as they do. She was one of the very few redeeming aspects about the dismal 2012 original movie, and from the beginning, she’s immersed herself so fully in the role of Katniss Everdeen that it’s impossible now to imagine any other actress playing the role. She’s the real reason to care about the plot. In the hands of a lesser actress, it would have been difficult to do so.

Not to say that the story, based on the books by Suzanne Collins, were in any way bad. I loved the books; I’ve read the original more than once. It’s just that we view this world of war and tyranny and political intrigue mostly through her character’s eyes. Collins did her part and made Katniss a strong and sympathetic character, and if Lawrence couldn’t do her justice, then the whole enterprise (no matter how well made and compelling the rest of it was) would have fallen apart.

Luckily, that doesn’t happen here. Lawrence is just as magnetic as ever as Katniss, and while she pulls off the big emotional moments convincingly (such as when she screams and throws things at her sister’s cat for reasons that are best left unsaid), it’s the quieter moments where she really shines. There’s one scene where a man holds a gun up to her neck and tells her to give him an excuse not to pull the trigger. Her reply is so well-written, and Lawrence’s delivery is so strong, that it captivated me (it wasn’t a very long scene, but boy, did it stand out).

Here she is: The heart and soul of this franchise!
Here she is: The heart and soul of this franchise!

It also helps that we have a director like Francis Lawrence at the helm. Unlike Gary Ross (whose work on the original was passionless and by-the-numbers), Francis Lawrence believes in the material. He’s passionate about it. You can feel as though he’s making these movies because he wants to make them. Some have complained that the tone he sets here is too grim and dark, but honestly, what do you expect? In a movie where hundreds of innocent people (men, women, and children) are slaughtered in combat, an adventurous and fun tone would have been a miscalculation and destroyed the movie.

There’s not much to write about in terms of plot this time. The first film in the Mockingjay two part set-up the story, and part 2 is the payoff. Recovering from her injuries after Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) attempted to strangle her to death (the opening scene shows her trying to use her voice again), Katniss joins a militia (which includes Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a heavily watched Peeta) to storm the Capital and assassinate the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

That’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell. Other familiar faces return, including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, Woody Harrelson as the supportive Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as the likably vain Effie Trinket, Willow Shields as Katniss’s sister Prim, and Julianne Moore as the rebel President Coin, who may not be as noble as she seemed in the last movie. The real show stealer is Jena Malone, who plays the crazed and rebellious Johanna Mason, and whose creepy-as-hell smile when Katniss tells her she plans to murder Snow is more frightening than the sewer-dwelling creatures our heroes run into later on.

The movie features a lot more action and special-effects than the previous installment, and as handled by Lawrence, they’re exiting, grueling, and in some instances disturbing. There’s one particular set-piece involving gallons of black ooze spilling into a city square. One of Katniss’s comrades is pushed into the ooze (I won’t say by whom), and his desecrated corpse is suspended into the air for the others to see. Eventually, our heroes are made to travel the city through the sewer tunnels, where they encounter the aforementioned creepy-looking creatures called “mutts.” The attack itself is thrilling, but it’s the set-up that gets under one’s skin, as Lawrence prolongs their appearance to the point that you begin to wonder if they’re going to show up at all (and when they do…yikes!)

"I love you Gal...I mean Peeta!"
"I love you Gal...I mean Peeta!"

Visually, the movie is just as stunning as ever. The production design by Philip Messina is stunning, especially when our heroes make their trek through the ruins of the Capitol, and Jo Willem’s cinematography is first-rate. The creature effects and CGI shots are all splendidly done, although some of the night time shots are so dark that it’s hard to see what’s happening at times.

Apart from a few poorly lit night time scenes, the biggest problem with Mockingjay part 2 (and with the series as a whole) is that silly love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. There is so much going on in the movie, and so much inner turmoil with the characters, that it’s hard to care about who Katniss will choose to be her lover. It’s there to get the tween audience members to go Team Gale or Team Peeta. Personally, I put myself in Team I-Really-Don’t-Give-A-Sh -- um, Crap!

The final 15 minutes are some of the best in the series, and focus on two remaining survivors as they struggle to move on with their lives. It isn’t easy. The damage has already been done, and what’s left are a number of wounds that will never fully heal. It’s a poignant ending for a series that, while not as great as other modern franchises like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, is still pretty darn good. Think of how much better the series would have been if they had just hired Francis Lawrence from the word go. We would have four very good movies instead of three very good movies and one very bad one.

Rated PG-13 for lots of violence (some of it is really graphic), disturbing images, thematic material

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 20 months ago from Oklahoma

      Certainly a popular series, though I haven't liked it all that much.