Unwaveringly bleak, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” is the culmination of the action-packed, stirring “Hunger Games” series that fans deserved. As a result of director Francis Lawrence’s work, viewers will observe a series that found its spark among light, vibrant and futuristic gladiatorial battles mature into a dark tale of scarred characters and the dangers of insurrection. Set against the Capitol’s pale ruins and forebodingly impenetrable architecture, the final iteration of Suzanne Collins’ novels’ blend of a politically charged human drama and dismal tone is not for everyone. But audiences longing for something beyond the first movie’s melodramatic, young-adult portrayal of a world gripped by totalitarian cruelty and characters burdened with the pain of loss will not be disappointed.
We rejoin Katniss Everdeen, once again played by the talented Jennifer Lawrence, in the middle of the gut-wrenching revelation that audiences were left with at the end of “Mockingjay, Part 1.” But the Katniss we witnessed on the silver screen in the previous three parts of the series is not the one Lawrence brings to life. The Katniss of “Mockingjay, Part 2” is a character wrecked by catatonic disillusionment and overpowering grief. Although audiences will still enjoy those familiar moments of Everdeen’s biting sarcasm and brash impulsivity, make no mistake: This is a character who has been exposed to brutal and tragic loss and suffers from a sense of alienation from her duties, friends and environment.
In her portrayal of such a conflicted figure, Lawrence has rarely been better; she draws us in and electrifies a narrative wrought with mistrust and uncertain alliances. Josh Hutcherson’s disturbing depiction of the emotionally and psychologically torn Peeta Mellark also deserves acclaim. Although Hutcherson’s portrayal is not as exhaustively explored, he, to the excitement of the audience, added refreshing depth to a flavorless character. Even so, as “Mockingjay, Part 2” turns inward to wrestle with some of the more thorny consequences of war, it is Lawrence’s towering performance that anchors the movie.
Audiences will also be pleased by the beautiful cinematographic work done by Jo Willems, who shot all but the first of the “Hunger Games” movies. Willems superbly contrasts the ruined grandeur of the capitol, the aesthetic of Katniss’ home and the unbearable heaviness of the bunkers of District 13. The costume work done team of Kurt and Bart pairs perfectly with the film’s darker themes. Characters dressed in light and elaborate garb are set against crushingly plain settings, while those who don simple, practical combat attire find themselves in the middle of detached opulence.
However, “Mockingjay, Part 2” is not consistent with its pacing. Perhaps that is for the best; director Francis Lawrence stumbles and rushes through critical scenes, heartbreaking deaths and awe-inspiring traps. Although moviegoers will find thrill in the nightmarish sewer sequence in which Katniss and her team are attacked by grotesque genetically modified monsters, such moments are few and far between.
It is the slow moments that shy away from maximum-volume, shaky-cam action that stick with the audience long after the credits roll. Those moments of daunting, revealing close-ups and haunting silence reveal a cast that is ready to elevate “Mockingjay, Part 2.” In a rare moment of foreboding calm, the audience is stunningly whirled around Katniss, dancing with Prim (Willow Shields), and shown the underlying fear and apprehension that continuously dictates Katniss’ every choice. But even those moments are not given the time they warrant. Such powerful, meaningful interactions between some of the best actors are cut too short; a decisive meeting between Lawrence and the maniacal President Snow (Donald Sutherland), leaves the audience uncomfortable — in the best of ways — but longing for more. By the final third of the movie, viewers realize that while some scenes drag on for too long, others are not given their due weight. In trying to reconcile the series’ past speed and the final chapter’s solemnity, Lawrence’s delivery was infuriatingly inconsistent.
The final chapter, unfortunately, also fails to distance itself from the tacky romantic drama that, as Johanna (Jena Malone) — one of the series’ most dejected personalities — aptly reminds us, engenders a healthy number of eye rolls. By the fourth installment of the series, the audience is tired of the cliched love-hate relationship between Katniss and Peeta. “Mockingjay, Part 2” confusingly attempts to breathe fresh life into their relationship by having each separately grapple with its own emotional and psychological wounds. Those shared scenes between Katniss and Peeta, therefore, default to the repetitive mold used in all three previous iterations of the “Hunger Games” series.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” is bold. Although its inconsistency leaves viewers with a sense that they missed something, its dour portrayal of the scars left by war and of its stinging emotional impact.