Even in a post-apocalypse, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” still felt brutally real

Hey everyone, I hope you had a safe and happy Thanksgiving last week. Or a good Thursday.

I had a couple of reviews go up last week. One of Power Up! #5 at PopOptiq and one of Saga #31 at The Rainbow Hub. I also meant to do this review, but I was too caught up in family time and watching Star Wars in Machete Order. Spoiler Alert: it works.

We’ll talk about Star Wars another time though. In say…. two weeks? Today, it’s the end of a completely different franchise.

If you’ve been following me since my original blog, you know that I love The Hunger GamesThat love has waned some over the years, but it’s probably my favorite young adult book franchise out there. While Collins may not be the best writer, she still managed to create an intricate and brutal world out of an idea that spawned from flipping channels. It speaks to real world issues such as disenfranchisement, media spin, the realities of war, and post-traumatic stress disorder in a frighteningly real way that this future doesn’t feel distant at all.

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The movie adaptations has also been pretty good, speaking to Collins’ strength of vision and her screenwriting past that most changes made between book and film made sense. The strongest in these changes being Catching Fire, which felt more like a visual companion to the book.

So how does Mockingjay – Part 2 measure up?

Much like Mockingjay – Part 1, I did wonder if it was really necessary to cut the story into two parts. The book was less than four hundred pages long and could have easily made a three hour movie. Of course, much like the upcoming theme park, we all know the answer to that question is that Lionsgate just wanted to make more money.

Still, with that gripe aside, the movie is a rather faithful adaptation in tone. I do agree with Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly that the need to make it PG-13 and an audience’s want for catharsis did undercut some of the points the book was going for, but this part especially drives home the feeling of dread and hopelessness that carries over the last part of the book and further illustrates the essential difference between Katniss and Gale that ends up driving them apart.

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I’m not on the Jennifer Lawrence hype train like a lot of people are, but when it comes to her performance as Katniss, I always give her credit. She understands what makes Katniss the taciturn character that she is, but was also able to show how much Katniss becomes worn down as the series goes on. Katniss carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. Some of that weight was chosen, but by this point of the series, a lot of it was not. The way she carries herself, trying her best to hold it together until she just can’t anymore, is so beautiful and heartbreaking. The portrayal of PTSD was one of the best parts of The Hunger Games as books and Lawrence brings that to the forefront in Part 2.

This is also the first film that Gale actually comes into play besides being Katniss’ friend from childhood that she could be in love with maybe. Liam Hemsworth brings a portrayal that is as sarcastic and bitter as Katniss, but has an extra layer of rage underneath that plays contrast to Katniss and her refusal to view the enemy as anything but human. This ends up being his own downfall of a character in the eyes of Katniss and the pain in his stature as she stares through him at the end is enough to write volumes on. I still don’t like Gale, but this was the first time since I first read the books years ago that I had any interest in his character development.

Really though, the acting across the board in this film was great. The subtle thirst for power of Juilanne Moore’s Coin in contrast the sinister nature of Donald Sutherland’s Snow. Patina Miller’s calm and assuring presence as Paylor. The broken uncertainty of Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta as he tries to recover from his hijacking. Honestly though, my favorite performance in this film belongs to Elden Henson as Pollux. I loved Henson as Foggy on Daredevil, but he’s so great in the part of the avox cameraman who can only communicate in sign language. His facial expressions and body language speak leagues to who his character is, especially when the Star Squad is stuck underground and we see the fear in his body as he returns to the place he was practically imprisoned in. He wasn’t a character we saw much of in the books, but Henson really brought a life to him that didn’t exist before.

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As I mentioned before, a few of the adaptation choices in this one were a bit jarring, like the lack of trial for Katniss after she assassinates Coin and Haymitch just reading a letter from Plutarch sending Katniss home (though this reasoning is understandable due to the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the not lingering too long on the effects of violence. They also skipped over a lot of Peeta’s recovery process, which gave an effect of him suddenly being better instead of really discussing what he was struggling with. The inclusion of Tigress also felt like too little too late on actually viewing the sharp contrast of Capitol culture compared to the Districts. If you’re going to have Snow espouse about how the rebels fear the “sophistication” of the Capitol to draw parallels to modern society, maybe actually be willing to show how that culture differs outside of just a few brightly colored hats.

Still, it nails that progression of hopelessness, both in script and in design. All the weight is felt and the climax of the war and the assassination of Coin feels as surreal as it did in the books. Those moments are gut punches and the film delivered on making them feel as such. And luckily, they don’t write in too much catharsis. We still don’t know the fates of some of the characters and the ending just becomes singularly focused on Katniss and Peeta as they learn to carry on with their lives. I wasn’t a fan of the epilogue in the book, but here, it becomes a loving and subtle symbol of hope while not shying away from the scars Katniss lives with.

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While it may not be the best adaptation, Mockingjay – Part 2 is a fitting conclusion to The Hunger Games franchise. Heartrending and bleak, the film is well acted and well-written throughout, expanding a bit more on the world as it sings its final songs. Which happens to be ‘Rue’s Lullabye’ in this case. As it should have always been.

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