3.5 / 5 stars
In the three short years since the first big-screen episode of The Hunger Games, the young adult genre saw two notable events: A spate of lesser – and less popular – YA film series surfaced, and The Hunger Games became the category’s surprisingly solid standout. What began with a passable, mild by-the-numbers opening entry from director Gary Ross wraps up as a fairly mature take on propaganda and revolution. There are some minor annoyances, but Mockingjay Part 2 has plenty to enjoy and even a little to admire.
The timing of Mockingjay Part 2’s home release poetically coincides with the theatrical near-death of the Divergent series, another YA title that certainly got its studio green light with the solid box office and reviews of its predecessor. While dwindling fans and bored critics have just about called the coroner on Divergent, the tale of Katniss Everdeen and a national underground uprising has stayed lively and intriguing.
The cast is an enormous plus, filling the movie with seriously seasoned pros who bring real weight to the film, especially important when the ideas or dialogue lean toward teen simplistic. It may be clichéd to say that players like Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright could deliver great performances reading the phone book, but you’d believe it here. The scenes between Moore and Hoffman, as the revolution’s leader and her tricky sergeant, are exercises in elevating a scene, which they do skillfully and easily. It makes us appreciate these two veterans of P.T. Anderson films – actors’ playgrounds, really – and sadly miss what Hoffman could bring to a movie.
Not that Jennifer Lawrence is a slouch in her fourth outing as Katniss, but the talented actor is really relied upon to serve a couple key purposes in Mockingjay Part 2, and she delivers as well as can be expected. Surrounded by military stoicism, Lawrence is the audience’s link to real-world emotions, shredding a scene with rage or tears as necessary. She’s also charged with, and particularly good at, convincing us that two Tiger Beat boys would fight over her (the fans seem to have shed the kind of Team Gale vs. Team Peeta silliness that made Twilight fans swoon).
Most important, Lawrence fuels the Hunger Games series by staying consistent as Katniss. There’s not much room in the role for development – once Katniss becomes a killer in the first film, she’s already weathered and steely, essential characteristics for any revolution. A bigger plus is that Lawrence’s consistency is surpassed only by the consistent tone of Part 2 itself, benefiting greatly from director Francis Lawrence leading the charge for each film since Catching Fire and deftly guiding the series to its conclusion. (It’s easy to wonder if the first film would have had more teeth if Lawrence had been there from the beginning.)
Mockingjay Part 2 spends perhaps too little time breaking down the machinations of wartime propaganda – it was the most interesting aspect of Part 1, and a chance for Hoffman to shine – and too much time on a Hunger Games-like journey across Panem’s District 2. But there’s solid execution here, strong enough for older viewers to forgive the film its sewer creatures and residual puppy love from earlier films. With Mockingjay Part 2, the series has effectively grown up. And signed off quite well.