Movie review: It all ends in ‘Mockingjay, Part 2’
–Wrapping up a film franchise is never easy, especially when you’ve built it to an incredible crescendo, but that’s the challenge that faces the influx of Young Adult fiction adaptations that have become film franchises.
It started with “Harry Potter,” which grew its characters and story over the course of eight films — based on seven books — and ended with a satisfying resolution. Next came “Twilight,” which was a hit among audiences despite a ridiculous story and an even more ridiculous ending to its fifth and final film.
Now comes the end for “The Hunger Games.” It’s ridden the line between critical and commercial success. It’s a better set of films than “Twilight,” but it might not have the rabid fan popularity. And it’s not quite as epic as “Harry Potter,” but it faces the same challenge in trying to hit the right notes for its ending.
Much like those film franchises, “The Hunger Games” kept things going an extra year by splitting its final book into two installments. The first half — “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” — debuted last November. It was a solid film, but you couldn’t escape the feeling that it was all set up with little resolution. That, of course, was by design. The resolution came in “Part 2,” which debuted on Nov. 20.
“Mockingjay, Part 2” opens shortly after the first film ended. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) back, but his mind has been warped by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Instead of seeing her as the girl he loves, Peeta perceives Katniss to be an enemy, and, after nearly killing her, bangs the drum that she’s not to be trusted.
Meanwhile, the propaganda war began by District 13 and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is going full force. The districts have banded together and declared war on the capital. Katniss is determined to stop Snow for what he’s done to Peeta and the other districts. She goes to the front and joins Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and fellow victor Finnick (Sam Claflin) as they march on the presidential palace, but Katniss finds that war — and her friends — aren’t what she thought they’d be, and she quickly learns that her allies might not be friends after all.
I have seen some comments that this franchise ended on a dark note. That’s true. Whereas Harry Potter beat the forces of evil and lived a quiet, happy life — and even our heroes from “Twilight” got a happy ending — that never seemed to be in the cards for Katniss. So it strikes me as surprising that people were shocked by the rough, often melancholy final installment.
This was a franchise that asked hard questions about our society. I thought “The Hunger Games,” the series’ first film, offered a glimpse at the possibly dangerous track our society is on. Subsequent films — while including a love triangle and a battle that are parts of these YA franchises — took a hard look at post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt and the dark places we go as a society. “Mockingjay, Part 2” continues that, while also putting a cap on Katniss’ story. It was never a happy story, so it’s folly to think you’re going to get a happy ending.
Without giving anything away, blood is shed, lives are lost and a war is waged in the final installment. We get resolution, which is what is needed in a final installment, but it’s not the proto-typical happy ending. And that’s OK. If you loved the series, and you understood the series, you shouldn’t be surprised by that.
What I will say is I think “Mockingjay, Part 2” is the weakest installment in the franchise. It felt like it struggled from a common ailment of many final films — too many endings — and the action drug. There was less real emotion here, perhaps because the film was trying to do too much to wrap things up. The performances are still solid — especially Lawrence, who’s the MVP of these films, but it’s not as resonant as the other installments.
Some of these franchises build to an epic climax that puts a bow on the whole experience. Others fail to live up to the incredible statement and world building of the first part. I feel like, now that it’s complete, “The Hunger Games” falls into the latter category. The original film was epic, the rest has just been interesting.
This final film wraps up the story in a way that befits all that came before it. It’s good, but not great. Hopefully that’s enough to satisfy its fans.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.
Three stars out of four.
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