The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is a thrilling and powerful ending to the Hunger Games movie saga.
Mockingjay - Part 2 picks up after the horrific end of Part 1, where we find Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to recuperate from a near-fatal attack by her one-time ally, partner and (sometimes) love, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Even though her physical wounds heal, Katniss finds that the many mental and emotional scars inflicted upon her, and those close to her, by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) have reached a boiling point. With Gale's help, Katniss sneaks out of District 13 headed for the frontline of The Rebellion's push into The Capitol, hoping to assassinate Snow once and for all.
However, when Katniss arrives in The Capitol, she finds that Snow has one last version of The Hunger Games to play: He's rigged the entire city with "pods," arena-style traps designed by the game makers, with the intent of making the rebels pay for their impending victory in blood. With all of Panem on the line, Katniss and her closest allies head into the pod-ridden streets, intent on completing their mission - even if none of them walk away from it.
The third and climatic Hunger Games movie by director Francis Lawrence (Constantine), Mockingjay - Part 2 is everything its predecessor wasn't (fast-paced, thrilling, dramatic) and is a worthy capper to the Hunger Games saga. Still, there are a few flaws in both the narrative and cinematic execution (no pun) that keep the film on the level of great blockbuster entertainment, rather than the powerful cinematic experience it aims to be.
On a directorial level, Francis Lawrence proves why he is a great director who has just been waiting for a chance to shine. With The Hunger Games sequels, Lawrence has, for the first time, allowed himself to grow over installments of a franchise, and that maturation certainly shines, here. Mockingjay - Part 2 shows off the director's flair for creating visually compelling works that straddle the line between high-minded cinema and fun genre flicks, with the added bonus of Francis Lawrence firmly knowing this world by now - its characters and our relationship to them - which allows him to move deftly through the story, while offering just the right brush strokes along the way, so that everyone has their moment before things wrap up for good.
With the narrative device of The Hunger Games fully behind us, Lawrence, his Catching Fire and Mockingjay - Part 1 cinematographer Jo Willems and writers Danny Strong (Lee Daniels' The Butler) and Peter Craig (The Town) are free to create a full-fledged dystopian war film - and they all succeed in that effort. Part 1 was about posturing and setup ("boot camp" as it were), but Part 2 is where we finally get to explore the true experience of war and rebellion - not just on the battlefield, but within the hearts and minds of those fighting it.
Due to the fast-pace of the story, most of the rich story themes are conveyed subtlety and precisely, in a screenplay and through visuals that don't seem to waste one second. Even slower moments of dramatic dialogue have purpose, and the character dynamics are always shifting (even during the action), enough so that Mockingjay - Part 2 warrants a second viewing just to pick up on what you may have missed the first time.
...And there's plenty that's easy to miss, since layered on top of all the wartime drama is an action/horror flick that distinguishes Mockingjay - Part 2 from the rest of the Hunger Games films in the best way possible. Author Suzanne Collins' final act of Mockingjay was always blessedly simple (a video game-style death gauntlet), and Francis Lawrence and Co. have fun with that clear concept, creating a bonafide horror movie experience that carries the film better than any of the Hunger Games tournaments that preceded it. This being the last chapter, the stakes are high as no one is safe, resulting in some chilling scenes that could be a bit too much for some of the younger viewers.
At the same time, while Katniss's quest through The Capitol's death traps are the highlight of Mockingjay - Part 2, the bookending portions at beginning and end aren't quite as strong. Due to the split halves of the story (Part 1 and Part 2) there is very little time spent with our main cast (and all those important side characters) before the war kicks off, and characters start dropping. Most of that quality character time you can find back in Mockingjay - Part 1. The climactic showdown at The Capitol is somewhat quick, abrupt, and arguably a bit anti-climatic (given the gravity of events), though a poignant epilogue does redeem things a bit.
What's there to say about the cast at this point? The lead ensemble - Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks - pull off the intimacy of longtime friends/enemies effortlessly, with Lawrence, Hemsworth and Hutcherson finally making their love-triangle pay off with a particularly understated but rich ensemble sub-plot. More recent franchise additions like Sam Claflin, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman all bolster their supporting roles with great performances (and for those wondering, a solid job was done filling in Hoffman's role posthumously). Finally, new (or previously background) characters like Elden Hensen's Pollux or Natalie Dormer's Cressida get well-deserved expansions on their roles in this chapter.
In the end, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is a thrilling and powerful ending to the Hunger Games movie saga. It's not without its flaws (as both a standalone film and second half of a larger story), but it's right up there with what Francis Lawrence accomplished with Catching Fire, with the slight edge of being able to go no-holds-barred, in order to bring the tale to a violent, rousing end. A must-see for any fan of the franchise, and great final reason for a newcomer to give the series, as a whole, a watch.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is now in theaters everywhere. It is 137 minutes long, and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.