Tuesday 3 May 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

After four years, four films, and nearly three billion dollars in box office sales, The Hunger Games – the clear victor in the young-adult movie franchise arena – has finally hung up its bow and arrow and emerged, blinking, into the world of home video. But how does The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 stack up against the rest of the series, and is it really the big, satisfying send-off we expected?

Well… yes. Mostly.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, out now on Blu-ray and DVD (and available in a boxset with the other three Hunger Gameses, if you need to catch up), picks up shortly after Part 1. After surviving two back-to-back Hunger Games, moving to District 13, and becoming the face of President Coin’s rebellion against the oppressive Capitol, reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence in a pound-shop Katniss Everdeen wig) is still recovering after being strangled by on-off love interest Peeta Mellark. Meanwhile, Peeta himself (Josh Hutcherson) is recovering from being “hijacked” by the Capitol – an extreme sort of brainwashing, involving the mind-altering venom of giant, mutant wasps.

As Coin (Julianne Moore, who does a great job of treading the line between likeable and offputtingly cold) and former head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, appearing here in his last film) prepare to ramp up their assault on the Capitol and win over the hearts and minds of all Panem, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is becoming increasingly desperate to hold onto power. The sprawling Capitol streets have been cleared and filled with pods – Gamemaker booby-traps, like the ones used in the Hunger Games arena – and it’s up to District 13’s rebels, followed closely by Katniss and her camera-toting, frontline PR team, to navigate to President Snow's mansion and bring an end to the brutal Hunger Games once and for all.

Admittedly, this might not be the all-out war the previous films were building towards (this is a film about Katniss, after all, and her status as the Mockingjay means she's protected from the worst of the violence), but there's still plenty of action here, including some of the most inventive, scariest, and best-realised Capitol death-traps we've seen so far.

After three films – two with director Francis Lawrence at the helm – the annual-Hunger-Games-sequel-producing machine is exactly as well-oiled as you’d expect. Mockingjay Part 2’s production values are through the roof: every moment feels like it’s been meticulously, almost scientifically, tweaked and polished to a Hollywood shine. But this industrial approach to filmmaking might also be the movie’s biggest downfall. The film does a great job telling its story, and its excellent cast manages to completely nail all the important, emotionally-charged moments, but there’s a little too much directionless wandering and awkward exposition in places and the cast looked a little demotivated as a result. It’s probably just a consequence of the producers’ unnecessary (and unpopular) decision to split the final, least-interesting book into two films, and it’s not enough to take the shine off everything Mockingjay Part 2 does well, but it was a shame to see the likes of Natalie Dormer, whom I loved as propaganda-producing Cressida in the last two films, looking like she was just going through the motions.

All in all, this is a solid and enjoyable, if not perfectly paced, film in its own right. But (and I've said this before) it's when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 takes its place alongside the other three films that it becomes something really special. It'd be easy to dismiss The Hunger Games, with its "young adult" source material and offputtingly restrictive age rating (12, if you're wondering), but it's honestly one of the most polished, moving, and thought-provoking film franchises around at the moment. If you haven't watched these films yet (or worse, you've mentally lumped them in with the likes of Twilight), I'd say you owe it to yourself to at least give them a try.

I'm giving this movie – and the franchise as a whole – a well-deserved 4/5.


Mike Lee

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