The Hunger Games—Mockingjay, Part 2 is the movie you might have kept hoping Part 1 would be—engaging, and gripping, suspenseful and spectacular even if you’ve already read the book(s). Which, for the purpose of this review, I’m going to assume you already have: otherwise, why would be you be here, on a blog about young adult sci-fi and fantasy?
There is much I liked about this movie, and very little I disliked, so I’m going to touch briefly on a number of high points. Ready? Off we go, and naturally, there are spoilers ahead.
The cast is phenomenal. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, of course, but also Donald Sutherland as President Snow: he’s so good that my kids were surprised when I told them that he made his mark as a comedic actor in films like M*A*S*H*.
And there’s so much talent among the others that it’s a shame that some characters don’t get more screen time. More, please, of Haymitch and Effie, Finnick and Johanna, Cressida and Caesar and Boggs. I was never big on Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, but he acquits himself well here, particularly in the exchanges where he asks Katniss if what he’s currently pondering is “real, or not real.”
The plot moves. One of the greatest strengths of the films—and the books—is how the story takes off running and rarely stops for breath. Mockingjay Part 1, unfortunately, didn’t do that for me, stretching and stretching the source material for the sake of filling out a full-feature film. Part 2 eschews that and returns to form: it’s 2 hours and 15 minutes that pass VERY quickly. And that’s because…
The story is riveting. We’re done with Katniss’ introduction to District 13 and her learning about the secret plot to launch a revolution, we’re done watching her wade through (or is it “wallow in?”) her PTSD. Now it’s just time to kick some ass: Katniss vs. Snow, rebels vs. the Capitol.
Conflict abounds. Katniss is repelled by Gale’s ruthlessness in solving the problem of an enemy stronghold in District 2. The tortured and brainwashed Peeta seethes at her from his restraints, first in the infirmary, then when he is brought along on her mission. President Coin has no intention of using Katniss as anything more than propaganda—and as the film goes on, Katniss trusts her less and less.
And then there are the hundreds of lethal traps awaiting Katniss and her companions as they try to infiltrate the Capitol to assassinate Snow. A few minutes into their journey, I was nervously expecting something at every entrance, turn, and open space—and when the traps do spring, they don’t disappoint. I don’t remember if the rushing, lethal black goo was in the book, but it was mighty impressive on the screen. And the sewers scenes hearkened back to the scariest moments of Aliens.
The effects are convincing. CGI is waaaay overused these days, and when a film bores me, I start paying more attention to it than I do the story. That doesn’t happen in Part 2. Everything looks great and very realistic (the Mutts in the sewer being perhaps a bit too realistic).
The film enhances the book. Rarely do I believe a movie to be better than the book, but I’ve always thought so about this series, and especially with Mockingjay, which many readers consider the weakest of the three (it currently averages 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon, less than Hunger Games’ 4.6 and Catching Fire’s 4.7).
Splitting the novel into two movies was an obvious (and ultimately tiresome) cash grab, but Part 2, with that outstanding cast and great visuals, grabs you and never lets go. The discussion of one last Hunger Game and the public execution of Snow are particularly gripping, much more so than the book’s version.
There are slight hiccups here and there. After Katniss’ band escapes the sewers after suffering heavy losses, our heroine briefly slips back into the self-doubting, woe-is-me, Ever-Reluctant Everdeen that dragged down Part 1. Fortunately, this doesn’t last too long, as the survivors tell her that they believe in her.
Snow’s gun-toting minions, the white-clad Peacekeepers, seem about as good at shooting as the white-armored Stormtroopers of Star Wars. But like the Troopers, at least they look sinister.
There’s also a scene where Katniss finally lets her grief over Prim erupt from her, but the gravitas is spoiled by a quick cut of Prim’s cat cringing as Katniss melts down—the audience I was with laughed.
Still, I give Mockingjay Part 2 four and half stars out of five. It’s even better than the film version of Catching Fire, which really impressed me. I rank Part 2 just below the first HG movie. Go see it, if you haven’t already!
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in fall 2016.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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