A film review by Craig J. Koban December 1, 2015



2015, PG-13, 136 mins.


Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen  /  Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark  /  Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne  /  Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy  /  Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket  /  Julianne Moore as Alma Coin  /  Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee  /  Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow  /  Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen  /  Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair  /  Jena Malone as Johanna Mason  /  Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman  /  Jeffrey Wright as Beetee Latier  /  Natalie Dormer as Cressida  /  Paula Malcomson as Mrs. Everdeen  /  Mahershala Ali as Boggs

Directed by Francis Lawrence  /  Written by Danny Strong and Peter Craig, based on the book by Suzanne Collins


THE HUNGER GAMES saga finally comes to a climatic close in MOCKINGJAY PART 2, and this final chapter, on one level, certainly ups the ante in terms of action and spectacle apart from its predecessors.  

Regrettably, though, some of the more thoughtful exploration of the core themes present in Suzanne Colin’s literary trilogy have been left behind in the process, not to mention that, at a hefty 2 hours and 16 minutes, this HUNGER GAMES entry feels overly padded and desperate to stretch itself out well beyond what’s required of the overall narrative.  MOCKINGJAY PART 1 – which I mostly liked – still suffered from feeling like a disjointed effort without a definite beginning middle and end.  PART 2, by direct comparison, feels like one large third act, which somewhat hurts the film’s momentum and pacing.  

There’s so much unbridled ambition in this film franchise and, to be fair, as a whole it’s a cut above the pack when it comes to dystopian young adult books to movie adaptations.  Yet, when viewing MOCKINGJAY PART 1 and 2 as a whole now, it’s more than abundantly clear that the makers here could have easily truncated both entries into a more more satisfying, succinct, and leaner single film.  Taking a page out of HARRY POTTER, THE HUNGER GAMES franchise opted to remain as steadfastly faithful to the source material in splitting MOCKINGJAY into two films, but the move only reinforces more purely financial motivations than artistic ones.  Two films make more money for the studio, resulting in the parts feeling like a unified and obvious cash grab for all involved.  MOCKINGJAY PART 2 certainly is as polished looking as any of the previous films, if not more, and it still greatly benefits from the remarkably resilient and headstrong presence of Jennifer Lawrence at the helm.  Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough compelling story material here to require such a needlessly long fourth entry here.   



Predictably, MOCKINGJAY PART 2 takes place directly after the events of PART 1, which also managed to conclude itself on a tantalizing, but somewhat forced cliffhanger.   After nearly being strangled to death by her former lover, now Capital brainwashed guinea pig Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) takes it upon herself to volunteer for a last ditch mission force to reach the Capital and assassinate the vile and dictatorial President Snow (Donald Sutherland, oozing low key menace).  The President of the district resistance, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use Katniss more for purely propaganda purposes and less for militaristic ones.  Begrudgingly, Katniss agrees to Coin’s request, but decides later to go rouge with her team – comprised of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin), and Boggs (Mahershala Ali) – to make a secret push towards Snow’s mansion.  To make matters increasingly more tense, Snow has had his men litter the entire Capital streets with a series of hard to locate booby traps that could kill Katniss and company in mere seconds.  When Katniss – after a series of near brushes with death – does finally make her way to the Snow’s headquarters, she begins to realize that other political forces are conspiring against her that call into question the very reason why she’s fighting for Panem’s freedom. 

MOCKINGJAY PART 2 is essentially a cat and mouse chase film between Snow’s forces and Katniss’, and on a level of being a fairly well engineered war movie there’s no question that this entry is effective in that regard.  The entire series has been methodically building towards a climatic showdown between Snow and Katniss for several films, and there is certain inherent tension to be had in seeing Katniss and her motley crew of post-apocalyptic freedom fighters cheat death multiple times.  There’s a particularly intense battle in the darkened and claustrophobic city sewers, during which time Katniss and her team must defend themselves from swarms of faceless zombified creatures that want to eat them.  Director Francis Lawrence’s swift and assured handling of such scenes is commendable, but I did find myself asking too many questions during them…like…um...what are these creatures and where did they come from?  The movie never once provides an answer. 

For as many nail-bitingly frightening and fever pitched sequences like this there are regrettably far too many other sections of MOCKINGJAY PART 2 that slow down and take extended breaks to provide some necessary, but mostly watch-checking exposition, during which time characters explain their motivations as well as their enemies.  I will give the film full credit for at least acknowledging the subplot elephant in the room that is the love triangle between Gale, Peeta, and Katiss.  Unlike so many other examples of the young adult genre, MOCKINGJAY PART 2 has the two young men engaging in a fairly frank and diplomatic talk about their mutual love for the female hero rather than have the girl endlessly pine over both of them for their affection.  For as awkward and perfunctory as this love triangle is in the series (it’s one of its weaker handled elements), at least it reinforces what a strongly independent minded protagonist Katniss has become.  She has no time for mere boys.  She has a rebellion to lead.  Liberating an entire enslaved nation takes prominence in her mind over bedding one of her hunky and available male suitors.   

MOCKINGJAY PART TWO careens towards a decently thrilling, yet troublesome climax, during which time it not only feels oddly rushed (considering the long running time of the film), but also feels perplexing when it comes to some of the allegiances and motivations of key characters.  Most of the film is built upon scene after scene of action and spectacle, which is fine, but then MOCKINGJAY PART 2 wants to engaging in some eleventh hour sermonizing about the nature of war and the sometimes vagueness of moral authority and righteousness on both sides.  There’s a twist involving one character that feels more predictably telegraphed than palpably shocking, and even after that happens the screenplay struggles with finding secure footing to provide closure to Katniss’ series spanning struggle.  MOCKINGJAY PART 2 does provide mostly definitive closure to the saga, but the manner that it sort of haphazardly builds towards said closure feels somewhat sloppy. 

THE HUNGER GAMES series is, on a whole, not perfect.  The 2012 introductory chapter was a compelling, but wobbly beginning to the franchise.  Then came CATCHING FIRE, one of the most assured and well-engineered sequels of recent memory that vastly expanded and improved upon its antecedent in so many ways.  MOCKINGJAY PART 1, despite its faults, propelled the series into some new thematically rich terrain as to the nature of using propaganda – utilized by forces on both sides – to sway public opinion (like good sci-fi, the film posed intriguing questions with real world echoes).  MOCKINGJAY PART 2, more than any other entry in the series, lacks the euphoric sense of discovery of the earlier chapters in its attempts to take what’s basically a paper thin plot and expand it well beyond what it should have been.  In an effort to maximize studio profits at the expense of maintaining storytelling focus and integrity, the bloated and misguided MOCKINGJAY PART 2 only reinforces what a solid HUNGER GAMES trilogy we could have had.   

At the very least, Jennifer Lawrence holds up her end of the bargain and dramatically grounds every waking moment of this series – even the more mediocre entries – and makes it so compulsively watchable.  Katniss Everdeen makes just about every other female hero in young adult fiction look laughably antiquated.  If other future young adult adaptations look to THE HUNGER GAMES for inspiration…then that’s wholeheartedly a good thing. 


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