(Commander Paylor stands in front of a giant map of the capital, briefing the rebel troops on their forthcoming incursion.)
Paylor: To slow our advance President Snow has built a minefield of traps. The sadistic inventions of game makers meant to make sport of our deaths.
Finnick (to Katniss): Ladies and gentleman, welcome to 76th Hunger Games.
With this scene, about half an hour in to Mockingjay Part 2, memories of the drawn out and talky Mockingjay Part 1 quickly fade. We are back in familiar territory and the film franchise is once again able to return to its strengths.
I quite liked Mockingjay 1, taken on its own merits it is a nice little character piece, but when considered alongside the rest of the films it really is pointless. They could easily have trimmed down this new movie a bit and got everything that happened in that one into twenty minutes at the start. Three books would have then translated to three movies and everything would have been tighter. Cash cows may have gone unmilked but artistic integrity would have been upheld.
The second film Catching Fire is a bit of a retread on its predecessor, pitching our heroes back into the gladiatorial arena, but both films were tense and exciting. It was great to see Katniss and Peter, and whatever allies they picked up on the way, navigating their way around the imaginative traps put in their way. Now those same hurdles lie before this couple and their squad as they advance through the city toward Snow’s palace. There are clearly other insurgents creeping through the citadel but we don’t follow them. Instead we once again get to see a small band of people in harm’s way, ill equipped to battle against an unpredictable and lethal environment. This time come up against exploding floors, incinerating death beams, killer oil slicks and savage mutts and it makes for pretty exhilarating viewing. Thanks to their opposing motivations and Peter’s brainwashing conditioning him to kill Katniss they occasionally turn on one another too. As Finnick said, welcome (back) to the Hunger Games.
I have heard the film described as dour but I didn’t find it so. The outlook is continually bleak and lots of people die but personally I didn’t engage with the characters enough to feel any loss when they went, certainly not in the way I did when Cinna or Rue checked out in the previous films. There is one fatality that is a bit of a gut punch but it happens so quickly it is almost thrown away and having read the book I knew it was coming. Of course, the one departure that is sad is the real life passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman who features significantly in the film. There is a tiny amount of digital trickery to put him in scenes he was never able to shoot but this is kept to a minimum and it feels appropriate to his memory. There is one moment at the end where he was presumably set to appear and his words are just read in a letter which I liked.
The rest of the cast all do good work. Julianne Moore has some good moments, more so that in Part 1, and Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are memorable even though most of their input was in previous instalments. Jennifer Lawrence continues to be brilliant as well but actually I think the show is stolen by Donald Sutherland. His portrayal of Snow is excellent and in relatively little screen time across all of these films he has given us one of the most sinister, cold, malevolent and calmly domineering bad guys in modern cinema.
I am sure that fans of the Hunger Games will find this a fitting close and will lap up the Lord of the Rings style multiple denouements. For me the several codas where typical of a series that was good but needed a better edit in its final stages. I didn’t feel the same level of commitment here as that which clearly drove the Harry Potter films and on occasion this felt like a film they had to make rather than wanted to. The relatively poor UK box office suggests public interest has waned too but in the end I enjoyed it.
The Ripley Factor:
As I have said before on the blog, if I were twenty years younger I am sure this recurring section would be called the Katniss Factor. Everdeen is probably contemporary literature’s best young female role model and that has absolutely transferred to the silver screen. She is absolutely at the heart of her story, is a believable character who does not demonstrate typically macho traits, is never objectified and does not exist to define or motivate men. In fact this last one kind of happens to other way around with Gale Hawthorne, which is not a particularly butch name is it?
Is this one for the kids?
The early Hunger Games films really pushed the 12A boundaries but the worst of the violence here happens off screen. People do get shot and they do bleed but the camera avoids this where it can. One guy gets his legs blown off but you’d be forgiven for not realising this, so reluctant is the film to dwell on this. The scariest moment is undoubtedly the attack of the mutts which have cast off all of their canine characteristics and are now eyeless, fanged zombie creatures. They actually reminded me of the inferi in the water at the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince so if your kids have seen that they’ll probably handle this.