As seems to be de rigueur with book to screen adaptations nowadays, Mockingjay -the final part of The Hunger Games series – has been stretched out to one film more than necessary. The upside of this means that, whereas Mockingjay Part 1 consisted mainly of Jennifer Lawrence et al hiding in a bunker for two hours, Part 2 is the one where stuff actually happens.
When we left things, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) had become an unwitting figurehead in the rebellion against President Snow (a magnificently hammy Donald Sutherland), the deeply unpleasant leader of Panem - that’s post-apocalyptic North America to the uninitiated. She’s being used as a mere propaganda tool however, the face of a rebellion, masterminded by less-nasty President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee - easily the winner of most bizarre character name in a franchise full of them.
Having previously united the various districts of Panem, the rebels march on the capital in order to overthrow President Snow. In keeping with her role, Katniss’ team is ordered to stay behind the front lines and shoot propaganda footage. In a neat twist on the series’ origins, as they progress through the city, they face a series of lethal traps set by the Gamemakers - the designers of the Hunger Games - with the resultant deaths televised. Instead of the deadly reality show of the first couple of films, this time around, war itself has become reality TV.
What sets The Hunger Games apart from other YA franchises such as Divergent, Maze Runner and Twilight is that it touches on bigger ideas. The blurring of the line between entertainment and cruelty has been a central theme of the series, as has the role of propaganda in warfare, with the rebels attempting to turn things into a Katnis-centric reality show. It’s come a long way from its Battle Royale, but for kids’ roots.
Equally important, at least to certain sections of the audience, there’s also the ongoing love triangle to be resolved. Will Katniss end up with super-hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth) or Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a man whose special skills include baking, painting himself to look like a tree (seriously) and crying a lot? Oh, and when we last saw Peeta, he’d been brainwashed to kill Katniss, just in case it was a difficult choice. It may not be as exciting as the blowy-up fighty bits, but it’s a story that’s been well told throughout the four films, and is satisfactorily resolved here.
As the moody, sometimes unlikeable Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is typically excellent. Over the course of the series, she’s grown into one of Hollywood’s biggest, most exciting stars, and for good reason. She’s ably supported by stalwarts such as Sutherland, Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (who died during filming). Some other cast members however feel a bit short changed. Jena Malone – one of the standouts of Catching Fire - is wasted, as are the likes of Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks. Likewise, series newcomer Gwendoline Christie has a single scene, getting even less screen time here than she did in Star Wars.
As with the novels, the finale of The Hunger Games series is not quite up to the standard of the first two entries. However, it’s a distinct improvement on the protracted Mockingjay Part 1, and a great end to what’s by far the best of the current crop of YA series.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: FRANCIS LAWRENCE / SCREENPLAY: PETER CRAIG, DANNY STRONG / STARRING: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JOSH HUTCHERSON, LIAM HEMSWORTH, WOODY HARRELSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW