The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday November 20, 2015

Jennifer Lawrence, Mahershala Ali, and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'
Jennifer Lawrence, Mahershala Ali, and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'  (Source:Lionsgate)

"You're kind of hard to swallow," Johanna (Jena Malone), an abrasive, battle-toughened girl with a crew cut, tells Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) early in the new "Hunger Games" film. She's not really wrong about that. Katniss is a figure of operatic proportions, and operatic complications: Romantic dramas and melancholy dilemmas, the unwilling focus of tidal social and political forces. Plus, she looks pretty good in futuristic body armor.

Yes, fans, Katniss is back, surrounded by familiar faces and making new friends along the way as she sets out on a personal quest to assassinate the evil President Snow in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2."

This is the second movie to be derived from the final book in the young adult trilogy by Suzann Collins, in what has become a now too-familiar Hollywood habit of treating franchise finales like laundry, wringing and stretching them for all they're worth. At least "Mockingjay Part 2" steps things up. "Part 1" was all about getting the pieces in the proper places; now it's time for the dominoes to fall.

We pick up where the last film left off. Katniss, neck mottled and bruised, can scarcely croak out her name following a homicidal attack from her re-programmed love interest, a blocky fellow named Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). It seems the diabolical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has turned Peeta into a "mutt" -- that is, a living weapon with no real agency of his own.

Peeta and Katniss have a long and complicated history -- so long and complicated that it's taken three previous movies to establish it. In a nutshell: Years earlier, Peeta and Katniss were both chosen as champions for their home land, District 12, and sent away to the annual Hunger Games, a blood sport in which teams of adolescents are forced to compete in a death match. The last survivor is the winner. Peeta and Katniss upset the dystopian apple cart when they both managed to survive their round, which only guaranteed that President Snow -- a masterful, Machiavellian player of political games -- would try harder and harder to destroy them. Instead, Katniss emerged as the poster girl of a national rebellion against the posh aristocrats of the Capitol, a city of one percenters more powdered and malignant than anything seen in the days leading up to the French Revolution.

After falling into Snow's hands, Peeta has been left so psychologically twisted that he can't discern reality from mentally implanted propaganda. Even when he's inexplicably sent into battle alongside Katniss by the ambitious rival to Snow's position, District 13's rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, looking like a Disney witch in feral green contacts and the ugliest hairpiece ever), Peeta is given to spasms of lunatic frenzy. This is a particularly troubling tendency when Katniss and her group find themselves deep in the heart of enemy territory, surrounded by "pods" that unleash lethal automated traps against them -- killer oil, super-sized machine guns, flame throwers, and mindless killers (also called "mutts") that look like a cross between slugs and vampires but attack with berserker savagery.

The others in the group include Boggs (Mahershala Ali), the nominal commander; Lt. Jackson (Michelle Forbes), a tough female warrior who more than holds her own in a story stuffed with strong female characters; brothers Castor (Wes Chatham) and Pollux (Elden Henson); fellow former Hunger Games champ Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin); a sad-eyed medic called Homes (Omid Abtani); Cressida (Natalie Dormer), a propagandist and videographer in the Leni Riefenstahl mode; and, of course, Katniss' other love interest, a fellow called Gale (Liam Hemsworth) who has long pined for Katniss but who understands her bond with Peeta. Bit by bit, mutt by mutt, the group is whittled down to a handful of survivors. But will Katniss -- the movies' First Girl, after all -- withstand a final round of constant peril to become the series' Final Girl?

It's a tough call. The film is big and vibrant, less plodding than the previous installment but given to a dark visual style that's due only in part to the prevalence of scenes that take place at night or underground. But it's beset by tonal inconsistencies that result in unintentionally hilarious moments, such as the grimace-inducing dialogue between Peeta and Gale when the boys, huddled together after yet another devastating skirmish, talk about Katniss and their mutual despair over her. Katniss, lying awake nearby and eavesdropping, manages not to roll her eyes at the way the two of them sound like a couple of lovelorn girls; the audience, however, is left to chuckle uneasily, out of a mixture of tedium and embarrassment.

There's also a moment late in the film when Katniss is about to turn the tables on a cunning, malicious foe, even as that foe is unwittingly urging her on with comments so overtly ironic they land like a rain of anvils. What happens next is no surprise, though the movie treats it like one.

There are some twists and revelations here, though, and they offer glimmers of the film's better elements. Snow turns out to be both more complex and more frail than we might have thought; Gale grows hard to the point of almost seeming spiteful; and a flurry of twists and betrayals plays out with satisfying, almost dizzying, velocity. The war's big battles play out mostly off-screen -- this entire adventure is really a side-trip on the road to revolution -- but there's a reassuring peppering of familiar faces from the earlier movies, including Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final film role.

A slower coda almost makes this two-and-a-quarter-hours film too long, but at the same time it provides narrative space for some decompression and resolution; the war against the Capitol gallops to a finish, the battle for Katniss' heart concludes long at last, and we can all go home with a sigh of relief that the saga is over.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.