Well, here we are. Four films and four years later, film lovers across the world are finally ready to say goodbye to the Hunger Games franchise. My relationship with the series has always been very much one of a feeling of looking in from the outside. Whereas I was deeply invested in each Harry Potter instalment as it was released, the Hunger Games was perhaps a phenomenon whose target age demographic was slightly younger than my own. I never read the books or truly immersed myself in the young adult universe, instead attending each film more out of a sense of cinematic duty than personal excitement, but having said, none of the three previous instalments had dissapointed and I was eager to see how the filmmakers were going to finish this now iconic franchise.
Mockingjay – Part 2 picks up almost immediately after the closing scenes of Part 1, with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) rescued from the Capitol but severely brainwashed and damaged and having just tried to murder Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). As is the case with nearly all single novel stories that are split in to two films, it is at this point in the overall narrative that the story really starts to kick in to gear, making Part 1 feel even more redundant (though well executed) than it did at the time. With the rebellion reaching it’s full stride and with a final confrontation with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in sight, Katniss, a recovering Peeta and a special unit full of all the audience favourites like Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer) set off an a mission through the booby trap laden Capitol suburbs to make their way to the presidential mansion to assassinate the enemy leader and end the war. The journey from District 2 to the mansion takes up a considerable portion of the film, and this high stakes, edge of the seat adventure feels very much like something out of a platform video game. As the group of rebels travel from one dangerous situation to the next, it reminds the audience of the tense and unpredictable nature of the actual Hunger Games tournaments from the first two instalments, giving the series a pleasing sense of symmetry and familiarity even though the plot has moved on so rapidly from those earlier points. Though Mockingjay – Part 1 can be criticised for a slower pace and ‘in-between’ tone, by wedging the bulk of the novel’s exposition and narrative set up in one instalment, what the audience are given in Part 2 is a stand alone, mostly action feature that contains some of the best set pieces in the entire four film series. Audible gasps escaped my mouth on a number of occasions, with the last hour of the film being some of the most exciting and intense action cinema that I have experienced in a long time. Having said that, aside from the undeniably thrilling action, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the very final conclusions of this four year long story. It feels slightly as though the filmmakers have sacrificed satisfying personal character closure for a grander, more epic feeling ending of ‘good vs. evil’, whereas a pleasing balance of both would have made for a much more memorable and effective final chapter, much like I imagine the novel would have offered.
Though strong performances are given by all of the film’s cast, this series has always been, and will always be remembered to be, a celebration of enigmatic and commanding talent of Jennifer Lawrence. As Katniss Everdeen, Lawrence has succeeded in creating a kick-ass female role model for generations of future young film fans. Whilst the like of Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley has always been reserved for R-rated pictures, Katniss can serve as an iconic character who is accessible to all ages, and Lawrence pure quality and true star presence is always what has elevated the Hunger Games series above other young adult franchises like Divergent or The Maze Runner. Once again, both Donald Sutherland as President Snow and Julianne Moore as President Coin bring that essential touch of mature Hollywood gravitas to proceedings, and their contributions along with smaller roles for Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman help to give the film an extra touch of class. The collection of cast members involved in the special ‘Star Squad’ from Josh Hutcherson to Natalie Dormer to Sam Claflin to Liam Hemsworth all provide great support, but it is not an understatement to say that the beating heart of the film, and the entire franchise, rested on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence, and in my opinion she did not put a single foot wrong for four years.
Overall, Mockingjay – Part 2 was an action packed and thrilling end to the franchise, if not slightly lacking in the smaller personal character touches that would have rounded the series out perfectly. The Hunger Games is arguably the best big screen adapted young adult series that has been presented to us in the last ten or so years, and sometimes I think that it’s quality gets diluted when the films are lumped in to the same bracket as so many other inferior works in the genre. In terms of a cultural footprint it will never reach the heights and collective memory of something like Harry Potter, but there is no doubt that this set of four, mostly high quality films, will have a lasting and positive impact on popular cinema.