The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 makes a very compelling argument that there should only ever had been The Hunger Games: Mockingjay made as much as Part 1 made the same argument. Fans of the book should enjoy seeing this world realised on the screen with a fourth film and breathe a sigh of relief that the ending was not compromised for the masses. However for the rest of us Mockingjay’s split was an indulgence engineered to stretch revenue at the cost of narrative economy. Hollywood please take note.
This is not to say it’s a bad film by itself. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns, last seen having been attacked by her former fiancé Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) after they were finally reunited at the end of Part One. Part Two immediately picks up from there with no refresher to the world or current developments, the casual filmgoer may struggle to understand some of the personal stakes here if they can’t recall characters and their backstories. For instance Finnick a past Hunger Games Victor gets married here to his love from a previous film but I needed Wikipedia to remind me of their history together. The Wikipedia page made me care more about their wedding more than the film did and that’s a problem.
I did better remembering the world of rich and poor Districts and where we were in the war. Katniss a propaganda tool for the rebellion is eager to go after President Snow (Donald Sutherland never better) who rules The Capitol. So after Finnick’s wedding (like all weddings a useful narrative tool for getting all characters into a room for introductions or farewells) she stows away on a transport jet to go to the frontlines. President Coin (Julianne Moore), leader of the Rebellion, has other plans for her though to be included in a squad that shoots propaganda shorts behind the troops while taking out booby-traps. There is a lot of neat political and social commentary in this series. Katniss a heroine who came to attention by surviving with skill and courage in a deadly gladiatorial game is now being utilised in a war to inspire but not to lead or fight. Jena Malone as former Victor Johanna Mason at one point mocks her even after being shot because she had to be wearing a bullet proof vest due to her value to the cause.
The scene in the hospital between Katniss and Joanna may just be my favourite of the whole film. Mason has retained her sass despite having been held captive and tortured for the past year. Everdeen who is still in the fight knows Mason maybe understands them and their world better than most. It’s Mason who helps her escape to the front and it is Mason who gets her to enjoy a dance with her loved ones at the wedding. War brings uncertainty and loss, better kick up your heels while everyone is still breathing even if you don’t feel like it.
With the booby traps set in the Capitol it has now become a much larger Hunger Games arena with the squad getting picked off as they make their way to Snow’s mansion. The books no doubt would’ve added compelling back stories to these characters to make you worry about their fates but here in the film it is lot more difficult to care about most of them. The ones we do care about the most were in the previous films and again the memories can be dim for a few if you haven’t seen the films recently. Another compelling reason why one Mockingjay film would’ve been better. Of course we care if Liam Hemsworth lives.
Yet imagine all these characters introduced at the beginning and then put in jeopardy during a third act assault on the Capitol. There’s two days spent in this section of the film that could have easily been one. Still there is a fantastic sequence involving subterranean creatures that plays like a PG-13 Aliens scene with all of the intensity and less of the gore.
How the war ends is very important to the film and pivotal to Katniss herself. The rebel with integrity is left with only one choice after it and when she lifts her bow and arrow one last time onscreen I was smiling with anticipation. This series is fitting for the times and the youth of it. They’re savvy to media manipulation through the democracy of digital content, they’re grown up on reality TV that plays like a modern distracting Colosseum, the world is shrinking in the age of information and the different levels of wealth through it has never been more apparent. Since October 2001 we’ve been at war in the Middle East one way or another and there have been a lot of casualties and soldiers coming home but leaving parts of themselves back there. By comparison a simple good and evil tale would be too quaint for these times and this generation. Mockingjay is nicely sophisticated with a broad canvas of ideas and complex characters. Just not with a story that again, I must point this out, had to be split into two.