All good things must come to an end.
After four years and four films, the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ beloved 'Hunger Games' series has reached its long-awaited conclusion. A series of games have been played out in various arenas with Katniss Everdeen at their centre, but now the endgame is set to commence and it all has to come to a crashing end. For those who have read the books, they know where the story is tumbling. For audiences like me though, the ending was unknown. Would victory come in the revolution against President Snow and his dictatorship, or would it (and the series) end in fire and ash?
After coming to terms with the horrific torture suffered by Peta (Josh Hutcherson) at the hands of Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss sets her sight on revenge, determined to assassinate the man who has brought her and her family so much pain. Against the orders of the rebel leader President Coin (Julianne Moore), she races to the front line as the rebelling colonies make their final push for the Capital, with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) at her side. Katniss quickly realises that the games she has been running from for so long are over, but there is one more horrific set of tactics to play out against her.
The cumulative effect of ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ is difficult to really assess after watching it. While the previous three instalments moved with intense narrative focus, this final chapter finally allows the story to erupt into an epic. This is both an enormous and intimate film, director Francis Lawrence tasked with balancing the delicate character moments within what is essentially a war film. Collins’ narrative has so many threads that need to be addressed and resolved, and for the most part these are done with integrity and determination. Ample space is given to allow Katniss and her relationships to come to some sort of conclusion, whether they be positive or negative. It’s no small feat that ‘Part 2’ maintains the intense character focus of ‘Part 1’, when it’s being played against such an enormous backdrop. Once the film hits the final push on the Capital, it becomes an unrelenting rollercoaster, moving from one impeccably staged action sequence to another. What shocks though is that none of them are in any way exciting or cool - each is intense and often genuinely disturbing, constantly reminding you of both the human cost and the very human vindictiveness with which they’re enacted. And at the centre of this is Katniss, proving in this film more than any other that she is less the hero and more the survivor she has no choice to be. Her decisions are never easy ones, and she is rarely allowed to make them easily without cost.
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As always, the craft on show is terrific, and Lawrence continues to demonstrate his best work as a filmmaker and a storyteller within this series. It’s a visually impressive, sonically assaulting film, only hampered by the kind of on-the-nose moments of dialogue we’ve come to expect and a tad too many long dialogue scenes without drive or action. It’s also exciting to see the craft in these films reach their conclusions, especially since this is one of the few franchises crafted by a consistent team. James Newton Howard for example deserves praise for tying in his work as composer on the series, his score for this final chapter rising to the challenges set by the story and by the filmmaking whilst maintaining the integrity of what he’s done before. That ‘Part 2’ should be such a well-crafted blockbuster should come as no surprise though - this consistent level of artistry is something we’ve come to expect from this series, and it stands as one of the few ‘complete’ visions in franchise filmmaking.
Of course, the real heart and star of the film is Jennifer Lawrence. It’s not exaggeration to say that she really makes these films as special as they are, and in ‘Part 2’ she introduces a side to Katniss we haven’t seen before, one that us unpredictable and dangerous. The fire of revenge is in her eyes, and you know that she will do whatever it takes to get it. I still think Lawrence has done her best work in this series, and this film is no exception. The supporting cast are all uniformly excellent, especially from Hemsworth and Hutcherson, who have grown remarkably as actors over the four films. The senior actors are as terrific as you’d expect, especially Sutherland as the wonderfully sadistic Snow, who enjoys both playing with Katniss and watching her being played with.
Jennifer Lawrence introduces a side to Katniss we haven’t seen before, one that us unpredictable and dangerous.
And this ends up being the lasting impression of ‘Part 2’ - it doesn’t hold back its punches. Collins’ climax is sprawling, complicated and unforgiving, each twist as shocking as the last. She had set up enormous stakes early on in this series, and the filmmakers likewise met those. Thankfully, you feel them mostly paid off in the end - and as they should be - with great cost. No-one can be trusted, no truth can be believed, and no-ones safety is guaranteed. That’s one of the great hallmarks of this series, setting up high stakes and playing them out with integrity. It would have been easy to water down ‘Part 2’ to make it more palatable or a cleaner ending, but that would have been disingenuous to the ideas at the heart of the series. The films themselves are an arena in which we watch human beings commit acts of great courage and great violence against one another, and one where the odds are not always in your favour. In the end, even being the one left behind can’t even be counted as a blessing.
It’s too soon for me to be able to quite comprehend this final chapter, and really the series as a whole, but it’s hard not to walk out of ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ without a sense of satisfaction. Like the Harry Potter series and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, it might not be the ending you expect, but in retrospect it feels like the right one. Now completed, we can look at 'The Hunger Games' as a rare beast: a series of films that set a standard and maintained them till the end, a piece of genuine cinema created for young adults that both honours its source material and its audience, and yet never loses its creative integrity. And in the current climate of blockbuster filmmaking, with so many franchises selling their creative souls for fan-baiting and box-office, that makes this remarkable series all the more special.