Reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, I had the same reaction I did when reading the Harry Potter saga. I had to stop in both cases and turn the books over to confirm that I really had read the word “Scholastic” as the publisher.
Yeah, Scholastic, as in (one would think) “for kids”, in spite of the fact that the violence and horror in both series could certainly earn the films based on them an R-rating. With all four Hunger Games films earning PG-13 ratings, I wondered how they might have to change the final film in the quadrilogy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 to keep that rating.
I’m happy to say, not much at all. In fact, the years of using novels as a basis for “loose” adaptations appear to (hopefully) be over. Once the old excuse was that one couldn’t possibly either film or fit everything in a great book into a movie adaptation. That proved true for a time but advancements in CGI have allowed for the impossible to appear onscreen while the division of books into multipart films (see also 2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and, of course Peter Jackson’s long The Hobbit trilogy) has allowed for much more of the narratives to come to their fruition in theaters.
Mockingjay Part 2 is one great example of the source material being respected, partially because with fans like this saga has, such allegiance is expected. As shocking as the original ending of the novel is (especially for a “Scholastic” publication), Lionsgate and its director Francis Lawrence did little to tone this down and gave us a climax that is, to be blunt, worthy of The Hunger Games.
The film’s biggest issue is, of course, that it can scarcely stand on its own. With Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) recovering from an unprovoked and unexpected attack from her lover and fellow survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), District 13 scrambles to both recover from this bizarre event and fend off attacks from the brutal Capitol of Panem. One could (or, at least, should) no more start their Hunger Games experience with this film than by starting to read the novels with chapter 13 of Mockingjay (2010).
Taken as the second half of one single film (and/ or the final quarter of a four-part saga), Mockingjay Part 2 is a thrilling adventure with quality actors and undeniable tension. Just as every entry in the film (and book) series has shown us, no matter how close we are to a character, there is no guarantee that they will make it at all.
This is partially because, much more than any other part of the saga, Mockingjay Part 2 is a war film. To be sure, this is a futuristic, sci-fi war film, but it is a war film nonetheless, and the disturbing and heart-wrenching consequences of war are felt here.
As the dominoes fall leading the way for the invasion of the Capitol, the film’s real strength begins to show. Yes, the special effects are great, but the power of this film comes from the actors who take this rousing story seriously. Donald Sutherland is at his most sneeringly evil from start to finish as President Snow. He casually poisons his allies, nonchalantly laughs that he is not above killing children and gleefully taunts Katniss even as his Empire is falling around him.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is quite good in his final film role (he died during production of the two Mockingjays). Hoffman is calm and plotting as Plutarch Heavensbee and breaks his almost detached grumble only to show care for Katness. Luckily, enough of the film was shot before his death to make his inclusion feel complete, but reassigned lines toward the end of the film show the gap left by his demise.
Other returning standouts include Julianne Moore as the powerful (and power-hungry) president of District 13, Jeffrey Wright as programmer Beetee Latier and, of course, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy. Harrelson seems to have approached his entire role in this saga as a whole and shows his complex story arc in this final chapter beautifully.
The show stealers are still Lawrence and Hutcherson and both give complex performances that allow for a lot of pathos and surprises. However, even with the book’s story divided into two parts, there are a few disjointed moments that show excision and reduction. Due to this, Liam Hemsworth’s Gale and Jena Malone’s Johanna feel somewhat paper thin and only there as plot points, not necessarily full characters. Then again, this is only one chapter of four and taken as a whole the entire cast has had their chances to shine.
The 2016 Blu-ray offers a beautiful visual and audio experience. Extras include an eight-part documentary on the making of the film, a photo gallery, Cinna’s Sketchbook, and an audio commentary from director Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. Released at the same time is the six-disk boxed set called “The Hunger Games Complete 4-Film Collection which includes not only the films but all of the extras, including the previously unavailable retailer-only bonus features.
It is this collection that I recommend for the bonus features, the Digital HD Ultraviolet copy and the completion of the saga. The Hunger Games is popular because it’s well written as a trilogy and carefully and meticulously adapted for the big screen. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is that saga’s fitting and satisfying end, but unlike some final chapters, the film itself cannot stand on its own. Read all the books, watch all the films. You won’t regret it, Scholastic or not.