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Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2




A black cloud of inevitability hangs over The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2. It all comes down to this. War between the thirteen Districts of Panem, united under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) is in full effect. Opposing the will of the gathered people is the Capitol, the preening, privileged upper class of Panem, ruled over by the malevolent President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The Rubicon has been crossed, as the old saying goes. There's no turning back and restoring the country to how it was. Snow, himself dying from an illness, is singularly concerned with the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the rebellious teenage girl who has grown into his arch nemesis and is the living symbol and rallying cry of the resistance against the Capitol. The feeling is mutual; early in the movie, Katniss resolves to assassinate Snow. Everyone and everything in the resistance falls into place to support this plan, whether Katniss knows it or not. 

Mockingjay, Part 2 really only has one thing on its mind: placing Katniss in the Capitol to confront Snow and ending the Hunger Games saga with violence and despair. The preamble has all been established in the previous chapter; Part 2 is focused, for better or worse, on its grisly resolution and price Katniss must pay to end the worst years of her young life. In Part 2, a strike team consisting of Katniss, her two devoted male suitors Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), videographers Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Pollux (Elden Henson), Castor (Wes Chatham), soldiers Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Jackson (Michelle Forbes), and Katniss' fellow Hunger Games victor Finnick O'Dair (Sam Claflin) slip into the Capitol, which has been evacuated and transformed into a deadly new Hunger Games Arena, filled with lethal booby traps like landmines, machine gun turrets, and boiling oil tsunamis that is somehow easily outrun and outclimbed. Ostensibly, they're just there to shoot more propaganda video starring Katniss. Katniss claims she's on a secret mission from Coin to assassinate Snow. Everyone knows otherwise; this is Katniss' personal vendetta. They're all cool with it. Most of them don't survive, but in for a penny, in for a pound. 

Francis Lawrence, who previously directed Will Smith in I Am Legend and the short-lived but beloved by those who watched it series Kings, dips into both wells for Mockingjay, Part 2 with some thrilling results. The best sequences in Part 2 see Katniss and her team wading through the dark, forbidding sewers beneath the Capitol, where they battle new "Mutts" unleashed by Snow. We've come a long way from Gary Ross' first Hunger Games movie, with its ugly, unfinished-looking CGI hybrid dogs. These new "Mutts" look like an evolved version of the "Dark Seeker" vampires in I Am Legend, and they're horrifying, screaming out of the shadows to tear at our heroes with razor teeth and claws. Perhaps the best and most relentless action we've seen in the entire Hunger Games franchise is Katniss and her friends battling these vampire Mutts with their guns, swords, bow and arrows, desperately trying to escape to higher ground. When they reach a subway platform, Capitol storm troopers are there waiting for them, opening fire with guns and grenades in a sequence as ruthlessly violent and unfit for this franchise's young audience as any war movie. 

When it comes to the grim realities and casualties of war, Mockingjay, Part 2 is playing for keeps. Katniss tragically learns this first hand as she tries to slip into Snow's mansion incognito, only to be caught in a bombing raid that murders dozens of children, including her beloved sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who arrived as a medic to aid the injured. For a teenage girl who has suffered as Katniss has -- she has the PTSD to prove it -- the death of Prim is a dagger to the heart. Taking Prim's place in the Hunger Games is the reason for all of the death and destruction that followed. The liberation of Panem is the prize hard won, but for Katniss personally, what was it all for when her sister died anyway? Mockingjay, Part 2 brings the rivalry between Snow and Katniss to a satisfying conclusion, when he reveals to her that they've both been pawns -- so busy paying attention to each other that they both played right into the usurper Coin's hands. Turns out Coin is no better than Snow; her first order of business as President is to hold yet another Hunger Games. Snow's laughter when Katniss chooses to put an arrow in Coin's heart instead of his - payment in full for engineering the events of Prim's death -- was chilling. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

As for the two boys in Katniss' wake, waiting for her to choose between them, Gale blows his chance with Katniss when he essentially reveals it was his kind of military strategy that Coin used which lead to Prim's death. Gale laments he should have taken Peeta's place in the Hunger Games originally; maybe he's right and maybe for him being dead would be better than living the rest of his life in Katniss' Dead Zone, forever banned from even her Friend Zone. Meanwhile, Peeta, who is still suffering from being brainwashed as Katniss' assassin at the hands of Snow, is essentially dragged along for the march into the Capitol for reasons that are inexplicable. Why bring a ticking time bomb who wants to kill your Mockingjay? He was of no use in battle and had no bearing on the final events that lead to the defeat of Snow. No matter, Peeta is the one for Katniss, and always was. Their ultimate reconciliation and future together was written in the stars, or at least by creator Suzanne Collins.

While fan favorite characters like Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks), Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) make token appearances, The Hunger Games saga, the most successful female-lead Hollywood action franchise of all-time, ends as it began: singularly focused on Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, and the woman who portrays her, Jennifer Lawrence. No one else could have anchored this franchise with the force and ferocity Lawrence brought to her megastar-making role. Mockingjay, Part 2 satisfyingly wraps up this story of war, loss, trauma, and revolution, which began with children dying in a forest for blood sport and ends with the reluctant face of a rebellion cradling a child of her own. Katniss will be haunted by the trauma of the Hunger Games for the rest of her life, but because of her sacrifices, her children will never know the horror of being forced to murder other children and survive in the Hunger Games. Was it worth it? For real.