By: Muneeb Arshid
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is the final installment in the ever popular series about Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of District 12. This 4th movie concludes the battle that began in Mockingjay – Part 1 with the rebels from District 13 squaring off against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. The movie features returning cast members from the previous installments including Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Malarck and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne who complete the duo between whom Katniss is trying to decide who she really loves. Julianne Moore is back as President Coin of District 13 as well as Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final accredited role as an actor because of his untimely and very sad death in 2014.
Of course, this movie is based on the second half of the third novel Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and if you read any website that reviews novels and works of literature, most people will say that this third feature novel is the weakest in the series. Which is why it easily begs the question: Why this book was ever divided into two movies? Obviously, the easy answer is strictly monetary, which is quite honestly a fair assumption to make, but as I sat through the film, there were long periods of nothingness which made me think why we needed a 4+ hour adaptation for the weakest book of the series. I will be the first to say that I actually did really enjoy Mockingjay – Part 1, mostly due to the fact that there was a clear storyline that director Francis Lawrence held onto – which was a strict political thriller with the back and forth between the Capitol and the rebels. But this film had a bit of an air to it like The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies did last year, where you’re watching the film and wondering what is even going on.
Now, this is nowhere near as bad as what The Hobbit was last year. At least with Mockingjay, there still is a coherent plot that is easily manageable for the audience. The film begins right where it left off last year and continues with Katniss’s recovery and eventual march to the Capitol with her allies – the rebels. But, unlike the first film, where there was a lot of political action going on, the first hour of this film, is a lot of walking and talking from one place to another, setting up why and when and how the eventual plan will be undertaken. Some may even call it exposition (which it is), but Lawrence (the director) makes it so that the viewer sees the exposition as being devices to set up a plan for the attack. Then there is about a middle 45 minutes where the action kicks in, where essentially, the 76th Hunger Games are being held in the streets of the Capitol with the game-makers in full form with their crazy monsters and traps. However, the ending is very underwhelming, very predictable (which I will talk below) and overall the movie is way too long (there are at least 20-25 minutes that could be cut out, out of its 137 minutes running time).
The one part of the series that has held together very nicely, including through this fourth part, are the characters and their development throughout the series. Especially the development of Katniss but to an extent Peeta as well. This movie really takes the tone of the movie into a very dark place, both in its action but in its portrayal of the PTSD being suffered by Peeta but also Katniss after the events of the previous film as well because of the events occurring in this film as well. What this movie does between the two characters is their mutual connection from the previous films which helps each of them recover and fight against their various PTSD symptoms and circumstances, but they end up being more so a rock for each other to hang to during many difficult times.
However, it’s not just the two main characters in this series that lend a strong hand to the story. Of note are the three main political leaders in the film and the performances by Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. In terms of Sutherland’s Snow and Moore’s Coin, there was this initial feeling from Part 1 that Coin was going to be the leader that not just the rebels of District 13, but the rest of Panem needed. However, this movie really portrays what Coin’s actual motivations are and that she is not afraid to do whatever is required to obtain that position from Snow as president. But, that’s also where the movie does lose its strength in terms of Alma Coin, is that her conclusion at the end of the film is very predictable because of the tonal shift that Francis Lawrence has taken. However, Coin is played very nicely by Julianne Moore (would you expect anything else?), it’s just that her plot and character became a bit much.
Her aide, Plutarch Heavensbee, played by one of my favourite actors of all time and the now deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was the head games-maker from Catching Fire and has now been with the rebels, is really great in his calmness on screen and the fact that his presence is all that’s needed to know that this movie could’ve been quite terrible. The on-screen calmness is quite normal going for an acting performance by Hoffman as that has been quite his forte for quite some time. But you do notice the lack of his character, especially in one of the final scenes, where one of the main plot points from the books had to be reduced to a letter to explain PSH’s death.
But the character of this film, and of this series, in my mind, along with Katniss is President Snow. His portrayal by Donald Sutherland of the power hungry, yet his very scarily calm nature is so prevalent on screen, and just shows that having, not just a great protagonist but a very strong lead antagonist is key for a franchise like this to be successful. Even though, you know he’s one of the most despicable beings in Panem, there’s a sense of humanity with him as well, especially towards the end, when he’s surprised that the final attack was being perceived to be started by the Capitol itself. But at the same time, he is a ruthless individual. Calm, but ruthless.
All in all, there are good things about this film, but there are many misfires as well. However, when you’re looking at the series as a whole, it’s definitely the go to series in terms of young adult fiction adaptations. There have been other franchises (e.g. Insurgent franchise, or the Maze Runner), which have had an initial average film, and the rest are just horrible monetary caches for the studios. But The Hunger Games franchise has made sure that quality is focused on, rather than the quantity until this unspeakable splitting of the final novel. And because of making two movies, it has caused Part 2 to easily be the weakest link in the series, but by no means a terrible movie.
This series would have benefitted, had we seen the conclusion last year with Mockingjay being a single film. I would’ve rather taken a higher quality, 150-minute feature over this 2 part, 250 minute extended look at the worst book of the series. The pacing of the film was definitely an issue, but there are quality bits in the middle 45 minutes which brings the movie back to the series’ formula of “The Hunger Games”. And the characters are all very likable and their interactions are not only important but meaningful as well. The conclusion of the Hunger Games franchise gets a C+