Slowly, without me noticing it, The Hunger Games morphed into one of my favorite film franchises. It snuck out from under the traditional trappings of “teen” films—love triangles, Super Speshul One heroes, melodrama a plenty—to deliver genuinely good films. Catching Fire was excellent, and if the decision to split Mockingjay into two films left the first part a bit dull and anemic, well, it’s still exponentially better than The Scorch Trials or Insurgent.
Mockingjay - Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off: Peeta’s just been rescued from the clutches of President Snow, who brainwashed him into violently hating Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). District 13, led by President Coin (Julianne Moore), has joined with most of the other districts and is on the verge of marching on the Capital, its streets littered with traps to kill the incoming invaders. Katniss, as always, struggles to accept her role as the figurehead of the rebellion. Her sister Prim (Willow Shields) has become a nurse. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is a doofus.
A side benefit of making Mockingjay - Part 1 a more setup-heavy film is that director Francis Lawrence has room to stretch out and explore here, notably in a scene set in the sewers of the Capital. (Book readers know what I’m talking about.) If Mockingjay were all one movie, Lawrence wouldn’t have had the room to draw out the tension and create what I think is one of the scariest sequences ever from a non-R rated, non-horror film.
If the action sequences are great, Gale fucking sucks, but we all knew that. My “Gale, shut the fuck up” count for Mockingjay - Part 2: Five. It’s like he’s from a completely different franchise: Every once in a while he’ll pop up to keep the love triangle fire burning, whining about being friendzoned, waah waaaah, Katniss doesn’t need him enough, waaah waaaah. He’s pointless and dumb and I hate him.
Mockingjay - Part 2 has one major problem, which is that it’s grim. While I admire that the Hunger Games franchise is willing to address the emotional consequences of the horrific situations its characters are forced to endure—as in the source material, Katniss spends a good 1/3 of the time walking around in all but a PTSD coma—I also like laughing. This is not Schindler’s fucking List.
The Hunger Games is a franchise that boasts Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Elizabeth Banks (and Jena Malone, a Catching Fire standout), but they’re barely used here, with results in Donald Sutherland’s President Snow somehow providing the funniest moments. Not that Sutherland did not deliver in such laugh riot movies as Ordinary People and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but if he’s the one who brings the most levity, maybe you need to look at de-The Dark Knighting things just a little bit. Mockingjay - Part 2 is a drama, but it’s also an action movie. Gwendoline Christie (who’s there for all of two minutes) says—with a straight face—the phrase “This is the Nut.” (You can sense the capital letters.) Is it too much to expect a little fun?
That said, while I can understand the complaint that Mockingjay - Part 2 is something of a slog—a bit too self-serious, a bit too anti-climactic—the somber tone wasn’t a dealbreaker for me. I expected it, for one, because the book was the same way. And personally, I like that both the book and the movie ditched the action-y bombast and took Katniss’ story to a quieter, more emotionally resonant place. It felt earned, given The Hunger Games has always been more about Katniss’ character evolution and how she copes psychologically with the shit she’s forced to wade through than which bad guys she shoots with an arrow or which boy she kisses.
(Cough cough, Gale. Fuck off to Twilight where you belong.)