When the final tallies are added up and the think pieces are all in, Jennifer Lawrence will have much more than an Oscar (or two… or three) on her mantle. Her career will be a collection of highlights and half-attempts, red carpets hiccups and go-girl statements. But nothing she has accomplished so far, and one imagines, she will manage in the future, will match what she has done with The Hunger Games.
Suzanne Collins’ rote retelling of Battle Royale via a Dummies Guide to Backroom Politics may not be the smartest, most pointed takedown of our power-mad governments ever crafted, but within its wonky design lives a character so strong and so memorable that she will more than likely become the idol for future generations of gender-redefining young women.
Much like comics and videogames have redefined the role of geeks in 2015, The Hunger Games has the same ability. It has and always will be the story of Katniss’ struggle. It centers on who she is at the core — a girl, a sister, and a potential partner for two lesser males. Without diving back into the series, Lawrence’s take on the role has always emphasized her fierceness as well as her femininity. She’s much more than her gender.
Unlike other YA figures such as Bella Thorne, Katniss is not passive. She steps in for her sibling as Tribute for the suicidal Games. She charges to save Peeta and reassure Gale. She willingly participates in the nefarious propaganda which may or may not be of value to the Revolution, and when it looks like things will take a turn for the confused, she clarifies, compartmentalizing the complications she’s created for one last shot at the hero moment — and she achieves it over and over again.
In Mockingjay Part 2, the wholly unnecessary cash grab that has come to define Hollywood’s non-art arrogance, Lawrence’s Katniss faces several crises. Some are external; she wants to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), save her sister Prim (Willow Shields), resolve her own problems with a still stumbling Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and old beau Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and deal with an increasingly suspicious rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore).
Other elements are internal, and for the first 45-minutes or so, this padded second helping spends a bit too much time on self-reflection. Yes, it makes for a much more powerful denouement once the tragedies start piling up and the raid on the Capital begins, but they add very little to what’s already there, and it’s a lot. We’ve followed Katniss for three films now, and each time her resolve has been balanced by a desire to do the right thing. Now, that’s cloudy, and with such upheaval (Panem is coming apart, literally) our gal comes to the only conclusion she can. She will fight.
Once we get to the Capital, where a selection of booby traps known as pods repeat the previous films’ action beats, Mockingjay Part 2 picks up. Katniss brings along buddies Gale, Peeta, Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer) to take down the despot, while back at base, Johanna (Jena Malone), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) try to plot the country’s recovery. It’s in the film’s second and third acts, where thrills are matched equally with chills (the underground mutants are particularly nasty) that the decision to keep director Francis Lawrence behind the lens really pays off.
As a filmmaker, he can handle the stunts and spectacle. There are sequences during the Capital assault that will remind you of the best the genre has to offer. Lawrence has really upped the ante since he first guided Catching Fire, and now with this two-part takedown of the series, he proves he should have owned it outright. (No critique on the first film’s Gary Ross. Lawrence is just better at this). He understands Katniss’ journey, how lonely it is, how fraught with disappointment and discovery, and she has the singular vision to pull it off.
That’s why Lawrence and her character will linger. That’s why The Hunger Games succeeded where Divergent, Twilight, and other attempts at female empowerment have failed. Falling in love with a sparkly immortal with a model’s face is not the height of feminist purpose. Being a pawn in a Orwellian world of predetermined position also fails the form. In the Hunger Games, Collins found a way to make girls great without having to resort to men. Katniss is her own savior. It’s she who must come to the boy’s aid when the moments arrive.
Fed on this from the moment their parents forget to lock the Netflix account, young girls given nothing but drivel and Disney will see their own internal strife and sync with Katniss is a significant way. Like Luke Skywalker, she will be the pedestrian, plucked from obscurity, to become the One. She’s Neo from The Matrix. She’s Harry Potter minus the magic. But the difference here is basic, and biological. Name the last movie, let alone franchise, which created a female character like this. Luckily, the producers nabbed Lawrence as her moment was arriving. Without her, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Sure, Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 could have been condensed and reconfigured as one massive epic, a Return of the King minus the hour long CGI battles, but then we would have missed Katniss’ complete learning curve. Bits and pieces don’t build a monument. Completeness does. While it may have originally been about the billions, the one thing that will linger is the singular: Lawrence and her Katniss Everdeen. She’s a hero for a demographic that sorely needs one. She’s now the benchmark, and nothing is better than that.