Essentially, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 does exactly what you want it to: it faithfully portrays the final cluster of action sequences and delivers on that cathartic epilogue. The ongoing love triangle that so defined the first three films is largely absent in this, the orgy of thinly veiled social commentary and inevitable purging of central characters. It’s heavy.
The third book is pretty unanimously regarded as a tough (if not dislikable) read, with Katniss’s questionable mental and emotional states pressing the YA action through the “PLEASE STOP” filter. However, the film’s rock-solid performances from the still-perfect cast — Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and company — make the film a far more coherent and trimmed-down experience. It does make for missing Effie, Haymitch, and Caesar Flickerman, though, as the majority of the film centers around Katniss “Man is the Most Dangerous Animal of All to Kill” Everdeen’s quest to throw down with President Snow herself.
Obviously, as a nerd for whom pop culture is a religious affiliation, I love me some YA and some resulting movie franchises. A great deal of their appeal is rooted in obvious metaphor and allegory jacked to the point of melodrama. High emotion, high stakes, high salaries for Hollywood’s darlings de jour, vampires, werezombies, alien mermaids, whatever. It’s generally comfortable escapism, but world events for the past week have given this film, at this moment, some real gravitas.
I don’t walk into a movie looking to pick the philosophical meat from the bones when the target demographic is weeping in the lobby before the movie even starts — but it’s impossible to be engaged with the news on any level and not feel all of it seeping into this film. The rebels struggling for civil and human rights, and the question of whether they are indeed enemies or not, are familiar figures. The violence in Paris and the questions around extremism and what rules may exist in warfare also make some parts of this fictional story hit particularly hard. It’s almost impossible to watch the last battle for the capitol and not think about real-life terrorism — and the danger of supporting the enemy of your enemy, only to have them rise up and repeat the sins of the past.
There’s even an economic and political theory gut-punch at the end of the movie. As we slog through an election cycle dominated by special interests, an egomaniacal billionaire, and the omnipotent Koch brothers, I’m going to shudder a little bit harder every time someone draws attention to the slide from democracy to plutocracy.
This hyper-relevance only works against the film at the very end, with a scene featuring narration, taken directly from the book, that’s just saccharine. It’s unbearably cheesy and reductionist after the previous two hours of serious action. It feels like a disservice to the entire franchise to end on such a small, tidy afterthought. Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite as bad, and could have blended in with the rest of the YA film franchise endings, if the rest of the movie didn’t feel so immediate.
It feels validating to see the characters you’ve grown so attached to struggling so hard against such legitimate, fundamental questions and problems in the world right now. Maybe that means that there couldn’t be an ending that would feel satisfying because no one is writing a tidy little epilogue for Syrian refugees — but maybe having the opportunity to process even a few of the multitude of feelings and ideas about our own violent and contradictory world is already something very different than you expect from a blockbuster franchise.