Reeling it in: ‘Mockingjay part 2’

“Mockingjay Pt. 2”

Lionsgate Pictures

2 hour, 17 minutes

I love it when a series ends stronger than it began. The concept of sequels that exists today is completely different than when I was growing up. These kids today (he says grumpily, shaking his cane from his seat on the front porch) have very little clue about the crass Hollywood cash grabs of the eighties and nineties. Back then, for a sequel to outshine the original was a bizarre outlier – a “Empire Strikes Back” or “Godfather II.” Most sequels were just cheaper rehashes, designed to make a quick buck. We still have those kind of sequels, I suppose, but mostly they go straight to video now. What we didn’t have were “series.” “Harry Potter” started a whole new trend, and we’re all better for it. This week’s finale of the “Hunger Game” series, “Mockingjay Part 2” is the best of the lot, a bold statement considering how good the series has been.

I won’t bother to rehash the entire plot of the “Hunger Games” here, but I’m sure you can look it up on wikipedia if you’re really in the dark. The last film ended on a rather shocking note, with hero of the revolution Katniss Everdeen being choked nearly to death by her former love and current brainwashing victim Peeta Mellark. My only complaint about the last film, a brilliant exploration on propaganda and whether the ends justifies the means, was that it ended on such a blatant cliffhanger. This film suffers, in a minor way, from the same issue, starting a little abruptly as you are thrust right back into the action with no preamble. I almost wish, and I’d recommend to you, that I’d re-watched the first “Mockingjay” before I went to the theatre, just to refresh myself. In this film, the revolution is well under way and the rebels are making real progress. Katniss’ value as a symbol of the fight has reached a plateau and our hero comes to the uncomfortable realization that she will either need to step into the shadows or take the fight into her own hands. Opting for the former, Katniss ends up leading a strike force into the heart of the capitol in a desperate bid to assassinate President Snow and end the war once and for all. Along for the ride are Finnick, former loves Gale and Peeta, who may or may not be programmed to murder Katniss, and a small team of soldiers and videographers. Propaganda, however, is the last thing on Katniss’ mind. She’s a woman on a mission and nothing, not even her own imminent death will stop her.

Oddly, this last installment of the “Games” series opened to the lowest box office of any of the films and has been the subject of some pretty unkind reviews. I read one with the headline, “The Girl on Fire is Extinguished.” Ouch. I completely disagree. For one, if you liked the first “Mockingjay,” which tended to be a little slow and somber in spots, you should like this one, which matches up tonally. The difference between the two films, and between “Mockingjay 2” and the rest of the series, is that the story graduates from the critique of reality television and government spin. It sheds most of the artifice that occupied the previous stories and goes right to the emotional heart of Katniss and her struggle. This feels like a true culmination. Katniss lays it all on the line here. There’s no more story, no new adventure for her. This is her, finally laid bare, and I thought it was powerful. To complain that this film was a mopey slog is to completely miss the point.

Jennifer Lawrence, who hasn’t put in a bad performance that I’ve seen yet, is stellar. Her Katniss has evolved beautifully and heartbreakingly and I consider it high praise to say that, because of Lawrence’s amazing work in this role, these movies are actually better than the books that they grow out of. As well, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are both very good, Hemsworth finally having an actual role to sink his teeth into. Julianne Moore is perfect as the enigmatic rebel leader President Coin, and Donald Sutherland is at his oily best as the evil Snow. The film manages to shoehorn most of the old gang in here and there, but for people like Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci, it’s really just large cameos. It was bittersweet to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman again, but the film doesn’t really have any particular role for him other than a few lines. This movie belongs to Katniss, and to a lesser extent, Peeta, and those are the performances to watch.

In the end, “The Hunger Games” films are good because they get you to care about the people you’re watching. It’s not the special effects or the violence or the romance – it’s about concern and empathy for the characters. I saw the preview for the final installment of the “Hunger Games” lookalike, the “Divergent” series. Unlike “Games,” however, I could care less about any of the characters in those films. By comparison, “Allegiant” looks like a cheap video game knock off. “Mockingjay” is evidence that the filmmakers cared about the story they were telling and gave me reason to ride along all the way to the final scene. Grade: A

“Mockingjay, Pt. 2” is rated PG-13 for violence and mature themes.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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