Netflix UK film review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Ivan Radford | On 21, Mar 2016
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Watch Mockingjay: Part 2 online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV Store / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. The name trips as elegantly off the tongue as the third book limped off the page. Suzanne Clarke’s sci-fi trilogy, which wove together politics, romance, reality TV and archery, never quite pulled off its grand finale: in admirably juggling all of its elements, it felt uneven and, by insisting on a serious pay-off for its plotting, a bit of an anti-climax.
So while the decision to split the book in two for the screen seemed like a commercial cash-grab, it turns out to be Mockingjay’s saving grace, paying off in dividends throughout both halves. Mockingjay Part 1 was given the time to breathe and fully explore its themes of propaganda and manipulation – the result was a natural blend of the personal and political. Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t quite reach those heights, but plays out like a gripping recap of the best bits of the rest of the franchise: the gulf between rival suitors Gale and Peeta is clearer than ever, thanks to their conflicting ideologies; the clash between dictatorship and democracy is brutally violent; and the action sequences buzz with thrill and ingenuity not seen since Catching Fire.
Most striking of all, though, is the pace: thanks to Part 1 giving all the exposition we need for the final stretch, Katniss and District 13’s assault on the Capitol becomes the main thrust of this film – and it unfolds at a breathless rate.
Director Francis Lawrence and his team have excelled at production design throughout the series’ final three entries, building a world so convincing that even flying through its deserted streets is immersive. That attention to detail extends right down to the clothes worn by Donald Sutherland’s President Snow, who retains his loathsome air of luxury as he continues to manipulate his subjects – his smoking jacket is a smokin’ jacket. In this dystopia, it’s about surface as well as depth.
In stark contrast to his wolfish smile is Lawrence’s Katniss, who remains blank-faced, as she numbly stumbles through the trauma of war. With the emotional investment in her family and friends already established, that bland expression (always at odds with the flashiness of the Capitol) means the losses that could unfold at any moment still retain the potential shock of Rue’s death – a threat amplified by some seriously scary visual effects during one monstrously chilling sewer sequence.
For all the 12 certificate-troubling action, though, the other reason The Hunger Games series has been unsuitable for younger viewers is far more commendable: the films have never shied away from examining the notions of corruption and control via the media. Even when Julianne Moore’s President Coin takes the podium, she sports a cloak that brings to mind a Sith Lord more than a liberal hero.
That commitment to the novels’ adult subject – this is about loyalty as much as love, both national and individual – makes Mockingjay Part 2 an ambitious conclusion to a quietly bold saga. Freed from the structure of the novel, the ups and downs of overthrowing one system to try and replace it with another are thorny without being cumbersome. The inclusion of conversations that take place away from Katniss’ limited perspective, meanwhile, add to the thick greys in this forest of shady morals – Woody Harrelson’s sober Haymitch and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s softly spoken spin doctor are highlights.
The tragic absence of the magnificent, ever-ambiguous Hoffman leaves the later moments struggling, while one final shot steps too far into on-the-nose, sentimental territory, but this last chapter bows out with a resounding reminder that The Hunger Games is a criticism of society and power first and foremost, wrapped up in a moving love triangle. The result is proof that blockbusters can treat young audiences with intelligence and that splitting a book in two can be a good thing. Mockingjay Part 2 has all the emotion of the ending and none of the anti-climax.
Mockingjay Part 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.