mockingjay-2

The Hunger Games will always go down for me as one of the great bait-and-switch. On the surface, you have a series of novels with a typical “young adult” pedigree – teenage protagonists, love triangles, dystopian futures. You hear these things and you expect a certain kind of movie. A certain set of rules.

In fact, I’d go as far as saying that that label lulls you into a false sense of security. I’m a bit of sucker in that regard because I’ve let this series do this to me time and again.

Three times now in fact. I expect it to chug along, hitting all of its inevitable plot points on its way to an inevitable conclusion and every time I’m surprised by the genuine shock, the genuine pathos, and, I think most importantly, the genuine depth of thought that the series delivers.

Mockingjay Part 2 is sort of the encapsulation of why you don’t judge books by their covers (that won’t be the last time I feel like I’m pulling quotes straight out of my previous reviews of this series either). The film is great science fiction.

It’s brutally dark at times. At others, genuinely scary. It’s a great action movie and a remarkable think piece. And it does it all, perhaps most impressively, with a PG rating.

Mockingjay Part 1, in my opinion, was the one misstep for the series. Splitting the final book into two movies seemed more like a financial decision than a creative one.

Part 1 just seemed light on content. In retrospect though, it may have simply been a necessary evil (if you define evil as an average movie instead of a great one, as all rational people do).

I don’t know what you cut from either of them.

But I think you can narrow down a lot of the problems with Part 1 as simply The Hunger Games lacking its trademark games. Katniss was sidelined to a certain extent, tasked with being mouthpiece for the rebellion.

There was a lot of speeches and people being moved by speeches. In the end, I think it served the larger subtext of the series, but at the time it felt pretty disconnected.

Part 2 begins in sort of the same fashion. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is still shooting propaganda pieces. Peta (Josh Hutcherson) has been rescued from The Capital, but he’s not the man he was before he was captured. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continues to run through military strategy with the top brass of the rebellion.

The Hunger Games has a problematic relationship with its use of Katniss as a tool of propaganda.

On one hand, it’s an important part of the movie’s endgame. There are real things to be said about war and politics and the games that are played within those spheres.

On the other, it’s one of the more forced aspects of the films – too often it’s used as an excuse for placing characters into situations that make little sense for them to be in.

Luckily though, Katniss tires of giving speeches early in Part 2. Which is nice, because I was tired of hearing them.

She sets out on a mission to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) with a slew of familiar faces, Peta and Gale among them.

On their way to the President’s mansion, they’re confronted with all sorts of traps left by the so called gamemakers. Mockingjay Part 2 finally completes the series’ grand metaphor that war is just the real world version of its titular games.

On a moment by moment basis, the movie is heartbreakingly poignant. Director Francis Lawrence shows remarkable constraint, never lingering too long on any given event, whether it be a stolen kiss or the death of a beloved friend.

It’s fast and it’s brutal, instilling the same shock in the audience as it would for the characters, and it’s all the more powerful for it.

At times Mockingjay Part 2 has trouble transitioning between these moments – certainly it’s here where the movie feels most like the adaptation of a YA novel – but it’s usually done quickly enough it can be ignored.

In the middle of it all is one of the great characters in Katniss Everdeen – played impeccably once again by Jennifer Lawrence (oh how happy Lionsgate must have been when they realized what they’d gotten with her).

I’ll say it again, it’s refreshing to see that actions have consequences in this world. It’s difficult to live a moral life, particularly when that normal life is lived in a not-so-normal dystopian future. Here we have a strong young woman, who rose from nothing to liberate her people.

A great accomplishment. A lesser story would have been satisfied with that conclusion.

And yet in the process Katniss loses just about everything she cares about. She stands for principle in spite of the danger and pays for it time and again.

The Hunger Games understands that this sort of triumph comes with a lot of pain, a lot of sacrifice. But despite being this beautifully tragic figure she never gets played as such.

On the contrary; she’s the embodiment of resilience and a pretty great blueprint for what a strong, female character should be.

In the end, the film finds the perfect note to conclude this particular story (out of what could have turned into a never-ending schmaltz fest in the wrong hands).

Frankly, the entire series is a master class in how to adapt books to the screen while satisfying both readers and newcomers alike.

It does just about nothing to say this, but I’ll say it anyway – if they only made more of them like The Hunger Games… it will be missed.