The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) brings an end to the first and most successful big screen adaptation of a young adult dystopian thriller of an oppressive, brutal future. Divergent and The Maze Runner followed with less success, both commercially and dramatically, and for that matter the Hunger Games movies wind down as they continue to the end. But it’s an interesting franchise.
The original The Hunger Games (2012) is the strongest story of the series, the second film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) is elevated by superior direction from Francis Lawrence (who took over the franchise from director Gary Ross), and the third and fourth chapters split an already slim novel into two parts, beginning with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014), which expands the story with a primer on the ways of propaganda and media manipulation. Extended action sequences help fill out the films as the battle is taken out of the arena and to the doorstep of totalitarian “President” Snow (Donald Sutherland), a despot uses terror to oppress the citizens who sustain the decadence of the Capitol.
Like the books, the films are informed by a justified distrust in leaders and demagogues and a wariness of media, which is used by both sides as a tool for propaganda. If the teenage fans of the film learn nothing more than to question the images presented by the media they consume every day, then they have justified their existence.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 opens with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) healing from an attack by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who she saved in the first Hunger Games and was subsequently captured and brainwashed (with brutal techniques, we discover) by Snow. She carries the guilt of his torture with the rest of her burdens. It’s not exaggeration to say that Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to the director) has centered and sustained the ever-sprawling saga as Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant rebel who became a revolutionary Joan of Arc, an inspirational figure that rouses the oppressed peoples to rise up against injustice. She’s a battle-scarred survivor, an authentic hero, and a teenage girl shouldering a responsibility she never wanted but can’t decline, and Lawrence captures all of those dimensions and more in her performance.
Extending the final book across two films is a commercial decision rather than an artistic choice and it shows. Where Part 1 got bogged down in debate and behind-the-scenes drama, Part 2 becomes a platoon film following Katniss and her team working through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol to assassinate Snow, a sequence defined by slow progress and nervous anticipation and punctuated by sudden violence and desperate battle. Director Lawrence ably delivers the spectacle but it still plays like padding, a way to squeeze in one more arena battle in the form of more obstacles on the march to the final act.
Julianne Moore is more political than ever as President Alma Coin, leader of the rebellion and self-appointed heir apparent to Snow’s throne, and the script (by Peter Craig and Danny Strong) doesn’t hide its suspicions of her endgame. Donald Sutherland plays his lines like a master musician on a finely-tuned instrument, relishing the power games the Snow plays right to the end. Chris Hemsworth is physically present but lost in the story and Philip Seymour Hoffman died before completing his scenes for the film and his absence is glaring. Part 2 tries to give every character their respective moments so when he practically disappears even as his character is busy behind-the-scenes, it’s hard to cover. But it’s a minor issue.
Ultimately The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 provides a satisfying end to the story rather than an inspiring one. It preserves the dark turn of the book’s finale, the character of Katniss, and the journey of Peeta to recover the compassion destroyed by Snow. It just takes a long way around to the stories that really matter.
Also on DVD and Blu-ray with commentary and featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes an exclusive two-hour-plus documentary and a 42-minute travelogue on the shooting location.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 [DVD + Digital]
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD]
And for completists, you can also buy The Hunger Games Complete 4-Film Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. It has all four features and all the supplements of previous releases plus an exclusive disc of supplements, including new featurettes and deleted scenes. Both include Ultraviolent Digital copies of each films (Digital HD on Blu-ray).
The Hunger Games: Complete 4 Film Collection [DVD + Digital]
The Hunger Games: Complete 4 Film Collection [Blu-ray + Digital HD]