The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the final installment in the Hunger Games series. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role of Katniss Everdeen, and Francis Lawrence directs, bringing the series to a close. With the final chapter being controversially split, this concluding chapter has a lot riding on it, and I don’t think fans are going to be disappointed. The stakes are no longer about individual survival, but for the future of Panem. Katniss Everdeen has one thing on her mind. To kill President Snow.

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Photo credit: Murray Close

The final installment of The Hunger Games series sees Katniss Everdeen embark on a deadly mission into the heart of the Capitol. She has one primary focus, and that is to kill President Snow. The war in Panem wages on and as Katniss gets closer to her goal, she finds herself in life threatening situations, and facing moral dilemmas that will impact the lives of millions. The film hosts an acclaimed cast, with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland at the helm, with an impressive host of supporting cast, such as Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, and Sam Claflin, to name a few.

The Hunger Games series is based upon Suzanne Collins young-adult dystopian trilogy of the same name, with over 26 million copies in print. In 2012, the books found their way onto the big screen. The Hunger Games has been the most successful franchise aimed at young people since Harry Potter, raking in over $2 billion worldwide, and this final installment is set to push that total even higher, with the series currently ranking as the 20th highest grossing franchise of all time.  Even if this final chapter fails at the box office, which is unlikely, the series has already made over five times its budget for all 4 films. As well as financial success, the films have received critical praise, and a passionate and dedicated fan base. Clearly, this series has stuck a chord with not only its target audience, but audiences of all ages, all over the world, but does the hype pay off in this final installment?

Mockingjay Part 2 picks us up immediately where we left of at the end of Part 1, Peeta has been hijacked and Katniss is left to mourn the boy who has been destroyed by torture. The controversial split has given this film a rocky start. You are not eased into this film at all, you pick up in the middle of a story. This can leave audiences feeling rushed in with no proper introduction and disorientated at the start, and the film plods along at a strange pace for a while. Whilst all these scenes are well written and skilfully performed, something about this first act of this movie doesn’t click. It feels like these scenes linger a moment too long, and can drag out a short scene. This didn’t need to be done in a film with running for 136 minutes. It’s not to say that these aren’t brilliant scenes, but the film’s run-time was already stretching. The first act, despite its pacing issues, have some of the finest scenes in the film. Jennifer Lawrence reminds us exactly why she is a brilliant Katniss Everdeen, delivering another fantastic monologue that hammers home the reason to fight, and theme of freedom. Lawrence is a master at these speeches, and delivers these speeches close to the books original text, and puts power into Collins words.

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Photo credit: Murray Close

However, once we get into the Capitol, the film really ups its game and it becomes a rip-roaring action sequence that barely lets you catch your breath. In amongst all this action we are allowed some fantastic character moments, and throughout all this dark action, we are reminded of the series thematic material. The films action pieces have moved on far from Gary Ross’s original shaky-cam that created an overly confused and unrealistic sequence. Francis Lawrence has given the franchise a slicker, more realistic and smoother approach to the action. The film sees our favorite cast of characters navigating through the streets of the Capitol, which has become a minefield of traps. These traps are dramatic death traps, with a gory flare. They make death into a spectacle, for the amusement of the Capitol. This demonstrates one of Collins key thematic points that runs through the whole series, criticising our society’s romanticized view of action, violence and death. We have become so numb and immune to the hardships of realistic violence, seeing it as something trivial and often fun. Death, killing and action are all so ingrained into our lives that we barely even notice it. Our children play games of war, we spend hundreds on mindless action flicks, reveling in the adrenaline and the excitement that it brings. Rarely do we stop and think about the real consequences of this violence. Our war movies depicted on screen like to focus on the battles fought, and the violent and destructive nature of war, not stopping and talking about the causes and consequences. It pushes the films rating with its dark and unflinching depiction of the violence. It is refreshing to see a popular blockbuster using violence to make a point, rather than just for entertainment value. People love action. That’s exactly why Mockingjay Part 2 is being hailed above its previous installment. Part 1 was criticised for its lack of violence and action. Apparently that had been the draw to these films. The excitement. There’s something disturbing in our societies blood lust when you take a step back and look at it. That’s what The Hunger Games series has always invited us to do. Producer Nina Jacobson is quoted as saying “The point was always how deeply felt the violence was, not how vividly it was seen. We didn’t shy away from it, but the risk was being guilty of the sins of the Capitol, exploiting it for entertainment.

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Photo credit: Murray Close

However, we are faced with this hypocrisy when these books are turned into films. These books famously never ever flinched at showing young people the true nature of violence, whether it was manipulated by the Capitol, or the consequences of real life war and punishment. The violence was portrayed truthfully, and it always had an effect. Mockingjay is the book that truly presents this theme in stark view. The book is critical of media manipulation and how it effects violence. One of the most disturbing scenes of the novel, omitted from this adaptation, is that in which our heroine Katniss kills an innocent person, for being in their way, and being an obstacle to them. Later, the murder is reported on. Katniss witnesses a piece of Capitol propaganda, where the Capitol “do a tragic tribute to the woman lying where we left her, with my arrow still in her heart. Someone has redone her makeup for the camera.

This Capitol, who undoubtly reflect our own western society, find a corpse, and then make it look pretty for the cameras. The violence cannot be too real, cannot be too true. That’s the irony of these films. They may be praised as gritty and realistic, but there’s still a makeup team making those corpses look good. The film omits this innocent murder, because even though it’s trying to do an honest portrayal of violence, there are some scenes it just can’t do. It wants to tell this story to a young audience, yet censors decree that you can’t tell them too much. That very sequence of having a corpse makeover is both shocking and hilarious, in a very strange sense. This is how Collins approaches her themes, brutally realistic and laughing at them at the same time. The film has its humorous moments, in amongst scenes of true horror. You almost feel guilty for laughing at these throwaway lines, splashing humor in. It’s not the same kind of humor that Collins has, these are more obvious comedic moments, but the fact that the film blends humor and violence so easily can come across as scary.  All this hints at another major them in the books, specifically the nature of our reality. The media plays such a strong impact in our lives. That’s the larger idea at play here, how much of what we think is real is a controlled reality. It’s been apparent in the films since the first installment. We saw game makers control the focal Hunger Games, we saw Plutarch manipulate Katniss’s life for so long. There has always been a sense that reality was manipulated by media in this series. That is the brilliance of this series, its making us think about the world around us. The Hunger Games may be set in a fictional future, but the parallels are not difficult to see.

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Photo credit: Murray Close

Mockingjay as a book, has often been seen as the worst in the series, and criticised for being boring, slow and moving our heroine away from the action. As I’ve reread the series, each time has brought me further and further away from that view. I now believe that this may be the best book. It is completely different from the first two, and aims to be more thematic than entertaining, and actually deconstructs the tropes conventionally found in a story of this nature. Katniss is removed from the action for most of the book, she isn’t a hero on the front lines leading the troops. She is seen to be in a more symbolic role, and the power of that. Terms like hero and villain simply do not exist in this story. We see people as heroes and villains, but they are a whole lot more than that.  Collins could have chosen to write a fantastic, thrilling action packed conclusion, but instead, we have something that is darker and grittier, and challenges the typical expectations of a finale. Mockingjay shows the whole effects of war. That is in its brilliance. It is a thematic book, and it has some very clear and very relevant themes. War, violence, media, reality and morality. Whilst the film does come close to irony in addressing some of these themes, they are still there at the core of the movie.

That is what makes this movie so good. It may not be a perfect film, but it’s a commercially viable blockbuster that redefines the idea of a blockbuster. It is thought provoking, and it makes young people think. It may not be a revolution in terms on cinema, but it is a step closer to an entertainment industry that is not solely concerned with mindless violent entertainment, but with the aim of making people think. After the roaring success of The Hunger Games, there has been a dramatic rise of young adult dystopian books and adaptations hitting the screen. None of have met the success of the Hunger Games. I do believe that this is because the Hunger Games has always had a strong thematic sense to it. Whilst these other franchises may well be good stories, they are not that strongly linked with theme. Series like ‘Divergent’ seem to promote the idea of individuality and to be unique, whilst not an unimportant theme, it’s basically the theme of every teen movie out there, it certainly isn’t unique.

Mockingjay is, at its heart, a story about morals. Particularly the moral stand-point during a war. Every decision made affects hundreds of people. Katniss is faced with finding a moral grounding in a war zone, and such circumstances breed so many different moral stand points. Most contrastingly are the differences between Katniss and Gale. Katniss never lets Gale forget that killing is always personal and isn’t willing to take a life that she doesn’t have to, but she is terribly confused within this story. Katniss begins to realise that absolutely nobody truly knows the answers, and that war is a lot more complex, and that the morals in war are often not as simple as right and wrong. Katniss goes on a massive journey throughout this final installment, and for the first time she takes control of her own fate. No longer will she be a piece in the games. That is what makes her such a brilliant character, especially in this final installment. We really see her strong and independent will that she is famed for. Other characters also go on complex, moral journeys that lead them to darker and more interesting places. Gale is one such character, who perhaps goes on the most complex and fascinating journey. Liam Hemsworth plays this brilliantly.

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Photo credit: Murray Close

Whilst heavily criticised, the decision to split Mockingjay into films has made for a much more detailed and layered adaptation of a complex book, and it has given the audience more time to absorb and explore these themes.

Regardless of ones stance on the use of violence, director Francis Lawrence presents it masterfully. Words cannot describe how on edge these sequences get you. Lawrence has proved himself a master of suspense and terror. He puts the audience on edge in a tense build up to one the films most rewarding and thrilling sequences. The five minute build up to a jump scare has whole cinemas holding their breaths. The sequence is tightly shot and doesn’t stop to let you breathe. The violence may be a sugar coated version of what we see in the books, but every scene pushes it’s 12A rating to the limit, and does it will the intention of making us feel the impact of every shot fired.

Lawrence displays some impressive skills here, with one of the best shots in the movie being a camera circling Katniss and her sister as the lead a dance. This single shot seems to remind us of everything that has happened and why. This whole chain of events was set into motion by Katniss’ desire to save her sister. They are leading this symbolic dance, they are in the very center, in a small circle, and the lead and put into motion the surrounding spirals of dancers. The shot seems to perfectly encapsulate one of the series main themes of family, and it shows that Lawrence has really thought about what he is doing with this film.

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Mockingjay may under use some of it’s stellar cast in supporting roles, but it’s leads are all given fantastic roles. Jennifer Lawrence shows us every emotion of the Girl on Fire with both the subtle complex looks and the hard hitting emotional speeches that she does so well. Whilst perhaps at times, Lawrence is underused, especially with scenes that could take the emotional response to another level, this is a minor quirk. Jennifer Lawrence has proved herself time and time again, and she has really carried these movies from the start. Liam Hemsworth really comes forward into the front and center and gets to portray one of the films more complex arcs, and he we really get to see his abilities for the first time. However, the true star has to be Josh Hutcherson. Out of the franchises main trio, it’s Hutcherson who really shines, because his characters arc has taken him so far out from what we knew Peeta to be. He really gets to show off his full potential as an actor here. He rises to challenge of playing such a complex role. He plays this tortured soul perfectly, and has come so far from his humble beginnings at the start of the series. Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland are two more fantastic actors that brought so much more to the role. They allowed these characters to develop much further than they do on the page, and really fleshed them out in the most brilliant way. Sutherland has always shown his intelligence in his performance and has really advocated the importance of films like these for young people. Sadly, Mockingjay Part 2 marks thefinal on-screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and unfortunately his mark on this film wasn’t as big as it should have been. It’s clear he too had an amazing passion for the project and brought a lot of his own ideas to the role and he won’t be forgotten.

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Photo credit: Murray Close

As a concluding chapter, Mockingjay Part 2 gives fans a pretty conclusive and well done ending that should satisfy most. Whilst the film won’t leave you in the happiest mood, it will leave you with a strange sense of hope for the future. The ending shows that these people affected by such horrors may never truly recover, but they can make the world a better place for the next generation.

Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is a brilliant film. It may not appeal to all, due to it’s grim and dark nature, but the film is there to make an important point about our society. You won’t leave this movie happy, it isn’t that sort of film, but hopefully, you will be left thinking about it, and the themes it presents. These films must go down in history as finally being a commercially viable blockbuster that deals with real issues and themes, especially when talking to young people. It might have just began to redefine the way we see blockbusters. The Hunger Games has cemented itself in our culture and hopefully it has inspired change in our young people.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is in cinemas now! Let us know your thoughts on this final chapter, and the franchise as a whole, down in the comments below.