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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 movie review: breaking the blockbuster

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
One of the smartest and most enthralling SF film series ever breaks more new ground as it ends on notes as emotional and provocative as they are explosive.
I’m “biast” (pro): big SF geek; love the book series; love Jennifer Lawrence (and much of the rest of the cast); crave female-centered stories
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have read the source material (and I love it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There are many ways in which the Hunger Games series of movies has been groundbreaking. It has given us a female world-changing heroine in the mold of the countless boys and men Hollywood has cast in such a role, and showed the caricature up by depicting her as more human than most of them: more conflicted, more unsure, more afraid yet also more brave for overcoming all that… and also simultaneously more principled and more selfish. Katniss Everdeen has never been about some romantic, idealistic notion of heroism; she has always been about protecting the people she loves. She has always been fully, plausibly human. The series has given us a look at a world in which women are presumed to be as capable and as effortlessly authoritative as men: one scene here has a rebel commander giving a rallying speech to her discouraged army about to go up against the oppressive Capitol… and it is absolutely thrilling to see a black woman (she’s played by Patina Miller) speak with unquestioned power and persuasion to masses of people of every gender and color. The films have delved deep into the potent influence of propaganda, even when you’re aware of the attempt to sway you.

With the final installment, we might even see all the previous Hunger Games films as a kind of propaganda that has primed us to expect a certain sort of wrapup to the story of Katniss and her rebellion. Spoiler (not really): we do not get that kind of ending. Mockingjay – Part 2 ends up not being a Hollywood-slick rah-rah cheering on of war as honorable and warriors as valiant. What has already been one of the smartest and most enthralling SF film series ever sees itself to a thoroughly engaging and very fitting end by questioning all of our assumptions about war, politics, and peace, particularly as blockbuster movie series tend to present them. Where things go here might feel to some as if they are anticlimactic. There is no final battle that, as bloody and brutal as it could have been, nevertheless represents a neat and tidy finale and a pat triumph of good over evil. Nothing here is that easy. Katniss even begins to wonder whether District 13 is about to overthrow one tyrant only to install another. (Did Luke Skywalker ever wonder what would happen after the Emperor was defeated?)

The thwarting of war-movie clichés starts early, when the public face of the people’s unrest, Katniss Everdeen (the amazing Jennifer Lawrence: Serena, X-Men: Days of Future Past), doesn’t lead the rebels of District 13 in what everyone hopes will be a definitive assault on the Capitol. Instead, she’s bringing up with the rear — of a battle we never see — with the propaganda filmmaking team, making videos that will hopefully sway the hearts and minds of the Capitol citizens who, naturally, aren’t on the rebels side. Why should they be? We don’t see any of Katniss’s “propos” this time, only Katniss’s disgust with being forced back into this role again even as she appreciates the need for it. But we do see some of the broadcasts Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci: Wild Card, A Little Chaos) and Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland: The Eagle, The Mechanic) make to the citizens of the Capitol: one of them comes with the unspoken underlying suggestion that luxury such as the Capitol enjoys is its own kind of propaganda: “If we’re rich, we must be right,” basically, and “Comfort is its own justification.” That’s not what Snow says, but it’s what he means. And it’s unsettling to realize that that’s not an atypical subtext to much of what we see in our world today.

This is so-called “young adult” dystopian science fiction with an unusual resonance for us. We see it, too, in tortured and tormented Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson: Epic, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), Katniss’s former Hunger Games partner who has been rescued from the Capitol and is now along on the propo mission — the idea is to show Snow and the Capitol citizens that Peeta has recovered from the horrendous conditioning he’d been subjected to, which forced him to denounce Katniss and the rebels — and has turned back toward the forces of good. Though the team is taking a huge risk in having him along: he isn’t actually quite recovered and likely to try to kill Katniss. PTSD is a big thing here… and how war impacts those who fight it has hardly ever been something that big loud action movies have cared much about.

Oh, and another way in which Katniss’s hero story differs from the typical dude’s? She does not get a simple reward of a handsome trophy to walk off into the sunset with, like so many male heroes “get the girl.” The series has mined a lot of tension out of how Katniss is torn between Peeta — whom she only pretended to love in their first Hunger Games as a, well, propagandistic ploy, but whom she clearly now feels something real toward — and her oldest and dearest friend, now fellow soldier Gale (Liam Hemsworth: Paranoia, The Expendables 2). There is nothing simple or trophy-ing about how this triangle resolves itself.

There are real stakes here for Katniss, and very high prices she has to pay before the rebellion she accidentally started is finally finished. And it’s the impact on Katniss that lingers most here. This film features some of the most breathtaking and original action sequences we’ve seen yet: Snow has turned the Capitol into a deadly obstacle course for the invading rebels; one character sardonically deems what they’re up against as the “seventy-sixth Hunger Games.” But matters of trust intimate and personal as well as social and political that haunt Katniss make this an emotional experience as much as an explosive one. Which is perhaps the most radical thing about how this series concludes: not with a bang but with whispers of doubt, grief, regret, and soul-searching.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 for its representation of girls and women.

see also:
The Hunger Games (review)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review: reluctant heroine
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I movie review: image manipulation

green light 4 stars

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015) | directed by Francis Lawrence
US/Can release: Nov 20 2015
UK/Ire release: Nov 19 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Tom

    Can’t wait!

  • Great review

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I hate getting down on Hunger Games. It’s a very competently made series of films. And it does a great deal right in terms of refusing to relegate women to “women’s roles”. But…

    It’s just not a very engaging series. It’s no wonder, to me, that the two halves of “Mocking Jay” have had the weakest box office returns (relative to the amazing amounts of money these films have grossed). When “Catching Fire” almost the same film as “The Hunger Games”, with the only addition being a contrivance to put Katniss back into the Arena, I think it became clear that when all is said and done, it would be the same plot, told three times (though it inexplicably takes 4 hours the third time, instead of the usual two) with an epilogue largely out of nowhere.

    Has there ever been a protagonist less interested in their own story? I mean, there are reluctant heroes, and then there are reluctant heroes, and then, waaaaaaay down the road, is Katniss Everdeen. She really does not seem to care what happens to herself or anyone else. Oh, sure, she says she wants her loved ones to be safe (for some vague value of “safe”), she says she wants Snow dead, but she doesn’t express it in any compelling way. Occasionally she makes some speech, or embarks on some ill-advised personal mission, but those moments just end up seeming out of character.

    I really could never get past the secondary school level world building. All the heavy handed allusions to ancient Rome. All the childish in-universe jargon like “propos” and “muttations” and “nightlock”… ugh. The total lack of any real sense of geography and history. It’s like Suzanne Collins read some sort of Sci-Fi style guide, but never any sci-fi.






    Katniss’s choice to execute Coin instead of Snow makes no sense, because Snow is right: there was no reason behind the attack. That’s the act of either a total psychopath, or a cartoon villain. Snow was occasionally that cartoonish, but he himself points out that doing so did him no good. Coin, meanwhile, was never portrayed as either psychotic or cartoonish. Ruthless, manipulative, and ambitious, sure, but this is a whole other level. She was winning, FFS. And to top it all off, Katniss makes no effort to confirm what Snow says, simply takes him on his “we promised never to lie” word. Except, at that moment, he has nothing to lose by lying to her, and all kinds of petty revenge to gain. In fact, lying is the only way he gains anything.

    And then there’s that final scene. I’m sorry (not sorry), but no. Katniss and Peeta don’t go on to have happy picnics with their adorable moppets, their marital bliss interrupted only by occasional nightmares, easily dismissed by happy thoughts. Katniss never has children. She’s never really physically intimate with him. The have a sexless, quiet-to-the-outside marriage. Peeta never gets better. His rages – and occasional murder attempts – get fewer and farther between, but they never stop. “Real or not-real” isn’t this cute, romantic thing; it’s their survival mechanism.

  • RogerBW

    I haven’t seen films 3 or 4 (waiting for DVD/streaming availability on 4) but I wasn’t terribly impressed by book 3, or the series, for many of the reasons you cite. It’s always easy to spot science fiction writers who aren’t enthusiastic science fiction readers: they so clearly they think they’ve got a new and fascinating idea that is good enough to support the work on its own, rather than having something that’s been done many times before and needs a bit of a twist to it.
    Of course if you’re aiming at people who haven’t read a lot of other SF that can work. And the first two films worked better for me than the books.
    The worldbuilding feels like fiat, and very thin: nobody knows how they got here, nobody’s really curious, and it’s all focussed on giving the heroine something to rebel against. (It’s not as thin as Divergent, mind.) That devalues her rebellion: it’s closer to a Potemkin village that allows her to look good than to a real struggle.
    Agreed on the passivity: in film 2, where it turned out that basically everybody except Katniss had been in on the plot to get her out to the Rebels but nobody had thought it a good idea to tell her, I did find myself wondering just who was the protagonist here.

  • Zagor

    I am not going to dispute your opinion on the overall quality of the series and this film in particular (I too am, overall, disappointed, and think it could have been better), so am just gonna limit myself to factual corrections.
    Judging by your last paragraph, you seem to have read the books, but it seems you did not read the Epilogue carefully enough, since its pretty clear that Katniss and Peeta do have children (if a few years older than the ones in the movie version). It obviously follows that they do have sex, also. You are right that they are both extremely damaged, something which, btw, is alluded to In the movie via that closing monologue of Katniss’, which is taken, verbatim, from the final lines of the book.
    As for the bombing of the children, and whether it made sense from Coin’s perspective, I beg to differ. It immediately terminated all of the remaining loyalty of peacekeepers (and the rest of Capitol) to Snow, and broke their will to fight. Hence, It sped up the war’s end. It also made sure (again, from Coin’s perspective) that Snow would never, ever be viewed as a martyr and a hero by the Capitol, something which he might have been down the road. At this point, I should call your attention to the fact that Coin intended to rule with an iron fist. Moreover, majority of her ruthless actions (at least in the beginning) would be directed toward the population of Capitol. Under such a regime, and having in mind that under Snow’s rule (except the last year or so), they were obscenely rich and had everything one could possibly desire, it is all but certain that Snow would have been used as a symbol for any potential rebellion of the Capitol.
    That is, had Coin not forever tarnished his image. And had there not been for Katniss, all of this WOULD have taken place. The cycle of oppression and wars would have continued, and all the deaths would have been for nothing. All because one woman was allowed to live.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I haven’t read the books, but you misunderstand me. What I’m describing is how I think the story should have ended. My version is more true to everything that came before.

    Also, I get that we – the audience – are told that this is Coin’s plan, but I don’t think we are ever shown that she’s capable of it. Not during these films anyway.

  • Siri Dennis

    I think you’re right. Katniss and Peeta love each other; they belong together. But they wouldn’t ever bring children into their relationship; the damage they’ve both sustained is too great. It would be too great a risk. The best they can hope for is to ‘save each other’ to the extent that they stick together and carve out a marriage against all odds. Sex is the last thing on their minds; they were adolescents when they were thrown into the Arena, and their sexual maturation never happened. There is no ‘happy ending’. But I think there is contentment. Hard-won. But real. And that’s pretty darn good considering what these young people have been through.

  • Anna

    President Coin (SPOILER) wanted to make new Hunger Games, which was a good enough reason in itself for Katniss to kill her. Though honestly, I do wish we could have a franchise with a woman as a black-and-white perfect heroine and the villains as perfectly evil, and with her getting a gorgeous boytoy at the end. How come we suddenly have to have realism when we make a woman the hero, and she can’t lead glorious battle charges and give rousing speeches and so on, like men always do? Though I was pleased (SPOILER) Commander Paylor ends up being the leader. That way it becomes about President Coin personally being evil, rather than women not being able to be trusted with power.

  • Anna

    Also the trap (SPOILER) was like one Gale designed, and he himself says he can’t be sure it wasn’t his.

  • How come we suddenly have to have realism when we make a woman the hero

    I’ve said much the same thing many times before.

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