Anyone going in to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 should know what’s happened in the previous films so far. If the Mockingjay addition doesn’t give that away, the Part 2 absolutely does. While Mockingjay – Part 2 picks up immediately from Part 1 (cut out the end credits of Part 1, along with the studio logos and title card for Part 2, and the two easily create a four-hour film), it’s also the culmination of the entire Hunger Games series. For fans of the books, that means they’ll know what to expect. For those who haven’t read the books yet, though, prepare yourselves: the progressively darker world of Panem reaches new depths as the war between the Capitol and the Districts comes to a conclusion.
As Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) recovers from injuries caused by her brainwashed partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), District 13 is working to get the few remaining pockets of the Districts sympathetic to the Capitol either shut down or on the side of the rebellion. Under the direction of leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss continues to serve as the face of the rebellion. Tired of this role, where she poses for a camera while others die, Katniss decides to sneak away to the frontline. When Coin discovers her location, she quickly places Katniss in an all-star brigade for the purposes of creating more propaganda. Katniss goes with the plan, while figuring out how to enable her own: to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) once and for all.
Of course, each book in the Hunger Games series had to have a game of sorts. So after being absent in Mockingjay – Part 1, Part 2 brings back the Hunger Games through a series of pods set throughout the streets of Panem. Each pod is a different sort of booby trap, creating anything from explosions to a torrent of black tar to unsightly monsters created by the Capitol. While a few familiar faces are present on the team, the main players involved are the perfunctory love triangle of Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta, who is far from over his brainwashing at Snow’s hands.
Where Part 1 took a reprieve from the action of the first two films, Mockingjay – Part 2 lets the action dominate nearly the entire film. Even when the action isn’t in play, the film functions as one long climax to the series. While it doesn’t quite approach Return of the King levels of “is it over yet?” fake endings, there are also multiple points that seem like proper conclusions of the series, with possibly one too many included.
Those endings are welcome, though. While the series has always maintained a darkness not typically found in YA material, Mockingjay – Part 2 takes the increasingly grim nature of the story to a natural conclusion. That means the glamour of the Capitol is gone. What’s more, many of the supporting characters who populated the previous films – including the personalities of Haymitch Abernathy, Effie Trinket, Plutarch Heavensbee, Johanna Mason and Caesar Flickerman – are pushed far off to the side this time. That leaves Lawrence, Hutcherson and Hemsworth largely with newer characters, who haven’t achieved the same levels of investment from the audience.
Still, for the final film in a blockbuster franchise, there’s plenty to make Mockingjay – Part 2 worth watching. Katniss has been used as a pawn throughout the series, and that continues as the film shows how the supposedly righteous Coin is as willing to use Katniss as President Snow. The series has frequently taken aim at the manipulation of media through its use of not only the Hunger Games, but the onslaught of interviews and propaganda pieces, and Mockingjay – Part 2 lets this particular narrative reach a natural conclusion.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 may not give its audience what it wants (at least not entirely), but it does deserve credit for instead hitting topics that are more worthy of consideration – not only about media, but about the various costs of war on a society. If the solution to the immediate threat comes perhaps a bit too easily, it at least doesn’t try to pretend that the end of the war will make everything in Panem better. It’s a message that’s eerily timely, and one that’s also needed at all times.