If viewers were shocked by the dark turn that the last instalment (MOCKINGJAY – PART 1) took, they had better come to the cinema prepared for PART 2 with a packet of tissues and a hip flask of something strong to take the edge off. Whether you’re read the books by Suzanne Collins or not, the fourth and final installment twists the knife with unpredictable malice as characters are plucked off one by one, grief piles up for Katniss and her comrades, and a series of explosive fight scenes culminating in a hideous civilian attack on the Capitol seem more SAVING PRIVATE RYAN than child-friendly-franchise.
And yet, these well-executed and sensitive scenes that bank on the socio-political framework of THE HUNGER GAMES, reminding us of our own societies as well us timely affairs such as the refugee crisis, flesh out an otherwise pallid film, mostly consisting of close-up conversations between Katniss and Peeta that feel too interchangeable to carry any real weight. Although Jennifer Lawrence, as ever, packs enough punch to overthrow an evil dictator and then some as Katniss Everdeen AKA The Mockingjay, this feels like the tail end of the third installment where momentum is dwindling and it’s all already been said in Part 1.
Picking up from where the last film left off, when ex-Hunger Games partner and sort of ex-boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) had tried to strangle Katniss to death after being kidnapped and brain-washed by the abominable President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the first scene sets the tone for the rest of the film as we open on a tight shot of Katniss and her bruised neck, being treated in a hospital as she tentatively exercises her vocal chords. Her morose, humble, resolute face is one which carries the bulk of the film through to the end as the rest of the cast dote around her, attempting to keep her alive, aiding her ideas, and generally worship her every move.
From the base of the rebel camp in District 13, Katniss embarks on a self-proclaimed secret mission to assassinate her enemy Snow who resides in the Capitol. Her new supporting unit consist of close friends Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer), hard-as-nails commanders Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and Jackson (Michelle Forbes), and childhood sweetheart/possible future husband Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Together they work their way through the President’s new “game”: a series of lethal booby traps scattered through the Capitol which they must navigate through in order to liberate the last standing beacon of the old repressive Panem. But at what cost?
The fear of loss comes into sharp focus here, and the stakes are kept dangerously high in a much more directly threatening, horror movie-like way. One of the stand-out scenes includes a genuinely terrifying sort of mashup between ALIEN and THE DESCENT which sees Katniss’s unit trapped in underground sewers as ‘mutts’ (eyeless rotting beings with razor-sharp teeth) close in on them. This kind of heart-attack inducing pace crops up throughout and is set by quieter moments of interaction with drive-by characters aiding the cause who, seen through the eyes of the ever empathetic Katniss, are instantly humanised, and these pinpricks of insight into the normal civilians that everyone is supposedly trying to liberate gives the film a much-needed sense of wider understanding.
MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 has a lot going for it in terms of spectacle, special effects and fight scenes that are grounded in real depth of feeling. But Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as the inspirational female leader of the revolution is the real selling point of a film that perhaps should never have been separated from its first part. She effortlessly out-shines veteran acting royalty such as Julianne Moore as the mysterious President Coin and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the leader’s right hand man Heavensbee, who pales disappointingly into the background. But perhaps this is the point: with all the focus so deliberately directed to Katniss’s face, her losses and gains hit home all the harder.