Ending on a high note, but not a franchise best, Mockingjay — Part 2 is a fitting conclusion for the The Hunger Games series that is sure to please most fans. The shortcomings are no different than those found in Part 1, but as this is the final time we will encounter Katniss Everdeen it’s hard to not wish for something more thoroughly satisfying.
Some adaptations fail because they neglect the most important moments in the source material. Others fail because they cling to the source material so fiercely that the existence of a movie seems rather unnecessary. The two films made out of Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games series, both fall victim to the latter being true, as the films work so hard to hit every beat in the books that the films fail to stand on their own. You feel more like you’re on a roller coaster—and by that I mean in an exciting scenario that involves no risk—than a journey fraught with peril. You realize the love triangle between the leads is ultimately why this series was made, hoping to capitalize on what now feels like the ancient Twilight Saga popularity, and not the story of overthrowing those corrupted by power. That may work, for some, but those who initially fell for this world because of its well-meaning heroine and her unquenchable thirst for justice may find her final chapter to be a little more than light on things they admired about the franchise.
Part 2 begins not long after Part 1 came to a close, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) recovering from her encounter with a recently freed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She now understands just how far Snow (Donald Sutherland) will go to control her and everyone else who stands against him, which only further fuels the desire she has end his life. All she wants is to rush into battle, strike down Snow in front of the world and then move on with her life. Coin (Julianne Moore) has more intricate plans for the hero of District 12 however, and in order to get what she wants Katniss must act like she is willing to be a mascot for the revolution. This involves campaign messages, propaganda creation, and steering clear of anything resembling a situation that may put her life in jeopardy. After all, Katniss is viewed by many as a symbol of hope, so in order maintain morale amongst the rebels she must remain alive.
Being the girl on fire we know her to be, Katniss plots a way to sneak around Coin’s plans and enter the Capitol just days after rebel forces have entered into what will become the series’ final battle. She meets up with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who was sent ahead of Katniss to battle on the front lines, but before either one can plot a way to reach Snow they are both pulled back into Coin’s propaganda machine. To make matters even more complicated, a still very mentally distraught Peeta is brought into the war zone as well, which forces Katniss to balance her love for both young men while still seeking a way to kill Snow and end suffering for good. The love triangle drags down the narrative, but thanks to a rather action-filled second half the film manages to never stall out completely.
There is no need to discuss the ending to the series at length, but suffice to say those who enjoyed the final moments of the Harry Potter franchise will see something similar happen in this film. It’s not at all necessary, but it does offer some resolution to one of the series’ biggest questions. Of course, anyone who cared enough to read the books already knows what happens, but still—it works.
Francis Lawrence returns to direct the final chapter, and his work is as commendable as ever. The biggest fault with the final chapters of this saga, aside from the unnecessary decision to split the final book into two films, is that the balance between romance and action never felt quite right. In order to address the complexity of Katniss loving two arguably great guys for two entirely different reasons has repeatedly forced Lawrence to halt forward motion for the sake of attempting greater emotional depth. While I believe he missed the mark with the first half of Mockingjay, which could possibly have been caused by the lack of ground covered by the narrative, the latest entry does a far better job of keeping things moving while still finding time to let the characters quibble over who will ultimately win the heart of Katniss.
Where the film falters is in its attempts to showcase changes within every member of its incredibly large cast. There are nearly a dozen major players at this point, and finding time to address everything happening to each of them in such a way we feel okay saying goodbye within the allotted 135-minute runtime of this movie is a task I am not sure any filmmaker could pull off. Lawrence does his best, and thankfully he is blessed with a talented cast capable of delivering strong turns even in brief sequences, but ultimately there is a disconnect between the viewer and several characters who, until this point, felt indispensable. Some of these shortcomings may be due to the source material, and if so then kudos to the screenwriters for doing what they could, but that doesn’t change the fact you walk away from the franchise without knowing how several characters’ stories will eventually unfold.
Though Catching Fire will forever remain the high point of the Hunger Games film franchise, Mockingjay — Part 2 serves as a fitting conclusion to the series that honors its source material as much as possible. This will no doubt please fans who have been waiting to see the epic final battle for the capitol play out in all its twisted glory, but those who are not as dedicated to the original series may find there are far less thrills and far too much too much romantic “will they/won’t they” this time around. Francis Lawrence has done his best with what he has been given, and though the results are not worthy of accolades his work on this series is certainly deserving of praise. There are very few directors who could come into a franchise nearing its end and find a way to make it their own, but Lawrence has done just that, and he will likely find plenty more work in the industry once the opening weekend box office numbers are revealed. The same can be said for the cast, who have largely already become major stars in their own right. The only real question is whether or not the studio will try and find a way to make more films, and my hope is that the answer is no. The odds of success may be ever in their favor, but too much of a good thing is never all that great.