“Mockingjay, may your aim be as true as your heart is pure.”
In my review of the previous installment in The Hunger Games franchise, I applauded its technical prowess while deriding its futility, saying that a three chapter series was mistakenly lengthened to four and that we would have to wait a full year to actually reap the benefits. So, we must appreciate that this feast – this conclusive harvest – has finally made its way into theaters before the influx of films during Thanksgiving weekend. Mockingjay – Part 2 is a robust and convincing mix of what came before, taking elements from each previous movie and tying them together. It may not be seamless, or neat, or without its own problems. But what I loved about this film, lumps and all, was its understated ability to be so solemnly serious on such a grand scale. Franchises transcend time and place when they know what they are, tell the story they actually mean to tell, and play themselves as they are meant to be played. This girl, once on fire, has become a woman flickering with hope and assuring lightness, however dim it may be, to guide us through the perils of darkness. You can’t end a franchise in much better fashion.
Mockingjay – Part 2 caps the end of an era, ushering in the truth that female driven franchises can thrive. The films might be collectively ill-matched, but they are the rare and empowering depictions of the license of a woman’s choice, propagated to the masses with little sugarcoating. Each phase blends into the next with little to no segue. “My name is Katniss Everdeen,” she says to start, her throat bruised and vocal chords damaged by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) from their encounter at Part 1’s conclusion. The penultimate film is a collection of hearsay and speculation, and because of both attributes, never really amounted to anything. Here though, we don’t get a defeated and demoralized cessation or a call for ceasefire. Mockingjay – Part 2 rallies us around the characters we’ve come to know, embraces the significance of its own choices, and stokes our adrenaline. You’ll lean forward in interest, cover your mouth in anxiety, and think about what the big picture means. Not many blockbusters can do that.
Mockingjay – Part 2 has the action and the tension that its predecessor sorely lacked, showcasing fierce warfare before and after it purposefully makes way to its own numbing silence. That is the genius of the conceit and its overall effect. Audiences are not dumb. We don’t need stupid Jurassic World’s to capture our attention through strident spectacle. What we need are stories that we care about. Mockingjay – Part 2 definitely overstays its welcome, almost exactly by 15 minutes, filled with scenes of exposition and fruitless dialogue. And yet, the story stays with you, because director Francis Lawrence keeps his movie so focused. We’re allowed time to interpret the eyes and the performances of these actors. Plenty of words fall flat from their lips, but their own scrutiny is what holds you close or distanced. Lawrence’s film works like a team with each actor playing their part, all while we bask in the exquisite cinematography by Jo Willems. He paints portraits with his camera, framing some absolutely stunning establishing shots. See this movie on the biggest and brightest screen you can.
One can’t help but witness this series unfold and compare it to Harry Potter. Starts light, becomes exciting and drastic, all before becoming stern. Both franchises revolve around unwilling teenagers forced into roles of leadership and defiance, qualities that align with the typical “Heroe’s journey” storyline. And like teenagers, it takes time for these stories to grow up, to fully grasp the stakes at hand and earnestly dissect them. The trajectory of Mockingjay – Part 2 gets it right because since it’s the last entry, and the most mature version of these characters, especially Katniss, they follow the unavoidable path of life. Now, just because it can be sober does not mean we can’t briefly be drunk on wit. Jokes come from the expected culprits: Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and Finnick (Sam Claflin). Disaster and destruction always knowingly loom, yet they’re avoidable, and this last chapter does precisely what the story was meant to do: inspire hope.
Maybe the weakest aspect of The Hunger Games is its tandem of schoolboy leads. Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are little more than animated male gazes, programmed to love Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and do little else. Both of them only exist because of the strength of our heroine. In reality, the series itself also only exists because of Lawrence and her incredible talent, portraying an unequaled character for us to connect to, empowering femininity and solidarity all at once. Katniss is a timeless figure, appropriately called “mythic” here, and will serve numerous generations to come. Most importantly though, Mockingjay – Part 2 shows knowledge and prescience in the social themes of the plot’s construct. Our world is only hard and dangerous and mean because we have found an unprecedented platform to vocalize our thoughts and beliefs. It’s amazing how much this film speaks to our current social climate: refugees in crisis, terrorism, homeland security, killing for a “cause.” The Hunger Games has been such a worldwide success story because of its connectivity and its applicability to each and every person. And Mockingjay – Part 2 closes things off through exemplary storytelling, exceptional action, and honest politics. Katniss’ initial declaration is asked of us this time around. We’re not force-fed the meaning; true to her spirit, me must volunteer to find it.
“I think the only thing left to say is thank you.”
Rating: 4 out of 5