THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson. Directed by Francis Lawrence. 137 minutes. M (Mature themes, violence and horror sequence).
The third book in the ‘Hunger Games’ saga went the way of the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ franchises before it, splitting its action into two films. ‘Part 1’, while very politically astute, suffered from the typical problem of feeling too much like an inconsequential introduction to the final film – the real conclusion. Well, fans of the films and books will be pleased to hear that ‘Part 2’ delivers on the promise, justifying the wait with a well-mounted and terrifically acted finale.
Katniss Everdeen, the ‘Mockingjay’ of the title, is a political symbol of rebellion for Panem against the autocratic Capitol. As the film opens, she is still recovering from the wounds inflicted upon her by her former friend Peeta, turned against her by the torture and conditioning of her enemy President Snow. Katniss knows that nothing good can happen while Snow is still alive, so during her friend Finnick’s wedding, she sneaks aboard a cargo vessel bound for District 2. The lead role the first to truly introduce Jennifer Lawrence to the masses, and she is still a force of nature beyond her 25 years. Katniss is as driven as ever, but Lawrence shows us how damaged she has been by her seemingly endless parade of trials and trauma.
With the rebels’ power growing, taking District 2 has become a priority, the final stepping stone before attacking the Capitol itself. With her hunky pal Gale, she and the rebel leaders in District 2 carry out a plan to defeat the loyalist mountain stronghold there. When it falls, their path to the Capitol is clear, and plans for a final assault are drawn up.
The leader of the rebels, Alma Coin, wants to keep using Katniss as a figurehead in propaganda videos, but Katniss and Gale want to be on the frontline. Disobeying Coin, Katniss and Gale plan to abandon their unit and undertake a rogue mission to assassinate Snow, wading their way through an urban maze of weaponised ‘pods’, traps containing anything from boiling oil to bloodthirsty, mutant ‘mutts’. Her team insists on staying with her, and it gets predictably morbid as her unit is whittled down by the sadistic snares. Katniss has to face the ultimate question – is sacrificing her own life to bring an end to tyranny a worthy cause?
The task of adapting the screenplay from Suzanne Collin’s novel fell to Danny Strong and Peter Craig. The former is best known for his scripting political dramas ‘Recount’ and ‘Game Change’, and the film is laden with a biting political subtext which borders on satire, made all the more pressing by recent acts of terrorism and the plight of downtrodden refugees. It’s amazing that such a film could be greenlit by a studio with a $160 million budget, given how interested it is with the machinations of backroom politics. Everyone in the film has their own agenda, for both Katniss and the entirety of Panem. War here is never black and white, and even our heroes exist in the grey area between just and cruel. Some fans of the novels were disappointed by the conclusions’ uncompromising and unflinching approach to the difficult realities and aftermath of war, but the films are committed to maintaining Collins’ vision. Hence, it may not appeal to those who prefer their endings neat and sunny, but its complexity is refreshing amidst other teenage franchises.
Director Francis Lawrence, taking on his third film in the franchise proves himself a dab hand once again, tackling intimate, two-handed exchanges alongside broad and energetic action set pieces. Though the end does seem to drag on a little longer than necessary (it suffers from having to tie up too many plot strands), the first couple of acts are nicely paced, and James Newtown Howard’s score keeps the emotional stakes present with each death or shocking moment.
No doubt thousands of young women will be lining up at the cinema this weekend to catch this film, such was the appeal of its previous entries, its source material and its star Lawrence. As they’ll be paying to see an uncommonly smart and well-made blockbuster, this reviewer has no complaints.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out November 19.