The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hutcherson, Natalie Dormer, Robert Knepper, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin and Gwendoline Christie
In UK Cinemas November 19th, 2015

by Richard Hamer

The tradition of splitting the last book in a series into two movies continues unabated. Harry Potter, Twilight – in time we can no doubt look forward to Fifty Shades Freed parts 1 and 2; 240 minutes of sex, interminably long email chains and wafer thin corporate intrigue, split over two fantastic years.

The Hunger Games has definitely suffered from the split: Mockingjay Part 1 was a first act devoid of action or conclusion; two hours of serious people talking seriously in dark rooms. But perhaps the sacrifice was necessary: Mockingjay Part 2 is every part the epic conclusion fans of The Hunger Games series deserve. A confident, swaggering piece of Hollywood cinema, it takes what was the most conceptually straightforward of the books and turns it into something huge.

Some of Part 1’s stink lingers for a little while, sadly: this is a film with some serious early pacing issues, its opening half-hour marred by what seems like a dozen consecutive sad, serious conversations between two people looking into the middle distance. The Hunger Games has always been a series more about the events than the people, its don’t-mention-Battle-Royale high concept of ‘children in an arena forced to kill each other’ more than the children doing the killing themselves.

Its principle cast are ciphers, vehicles for its lumbering juggernaut of a plot. They go through the motions as best they can: once again Jennifer Lawrence is challenged to do little more than look dour and thoughtful, Liam Hemsworth sadly resigned and pretty, Josh Hutcherson angry and adorable. To be frank, as characters they’re dull; exchanges that focus purely on them as people are emotionally dry and mechanical, their every softly spoken word – and virtually every conversation in this film is so softly spoken – threatens to sap the film’s energy right out from under it.

But then, thankfully, the action starts, and it never really looks back.

Mockingjay Part 2 is a triumph, simply in the manner with which it takes a book for teenagers, unchallenging in style or content, and just takes it super fucking seriously, throwing money and death at it, creating explosions and carnage that feel real and awful. It’s all an illusion, of course: The Hunger Games is wafer thin in its exploration of the extremes of despotism and social control through media manipulation. But between Donald Sutherland’s hypnotically diabolical performance and its cold and dispassionate rendering of the war torn city streets, you believe it all, you get swept up in all its big-budget jazz.

The violence is especially worthy of mention. At times, it’s terrifying. As a series it has grown increasingly confident within the confines of its 12-A rating: the vulnerability of the characters, the senseless, unfair suddenness of each and every death brought home in tightly edited set pieces that surprise with their power to shock. Scenes where ‘Pods’ – invisible, proximity based traps that cover every street of the Capitol – activate in Katniss’ path are such short, sharp explosions of death that it can be hard to believe this is all supposed to be a bit ‘YA’.

Suddenly, the half-hearted, directorial shrug of the original Hunger Games incessant ‘action shaky cam’ seem so far away.

But not so long ago, not really. The Hunger Games came out in 2012 and, already, it’s all over. It’s hard to know what to make of the series as a whole: much like the books they are adapted from, they feel more like a scatter-shot of media products than a coherent series, too divorced in style and scope to ever really settle in the mind as a whole. I suspect their fate is to be quietly forgotten by time, their success more down to an insistent, three year marketing message that they were ‘important cinematic events’ than them actually, in fact, being important cinematic events.

They were competent films, made bigger than they were by the sheer volume of money hurled at them. In the end they created this – Mockingjay Part 2 – the pinnacle of the form. It’s huge and explosive and in its best moments it becomes epic, important, essential. It’s all the emperor’s new clothes really, but – in this case – they suit him rather well.

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