WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the previous “Hunger Games” movies, especially “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One”

A year ago, audiences were left hanging with the haunting image of Peeta Mellark, the boy with the bread, writhing in rageful pain strapped to a hospital bed deep within the confines of District 13 while our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, looked on in horror. From that point, the end was near, ending “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One,” and throttling us in full force to that of the finale of the now sensational “Hunger Games” series, a series of which I was not always so supportive. As noted in my review for “Mockingjay – Part One,” as a staunch supporter of the 2000 Japanese film “Battle Royale,” I felt offended that a film with such a similar premise could muster such acclaim while “Battle Royale” sat in the shadows. After viewing “The Hunger Games” with my grandparents on opening weekend, I found myself going against everything I stood for by liking it and realizing how incredibly different it truly was from “Battle Royale.”

Moral of the story, children: Don’t be a hater. It never does anyone any good.

Now, almost four years after that, we arrive at the final installment of this blockbuster series. Katniss, now plagued by Peeta’s condition after being conditioned to hate Katniss after his captivity in The Capitol, she must now work to save both Peeta, as well as all of Panem from the tyrannical President Snow.

Writing this, I should note that if you like the series, there is no convincing you whether or not you should or shouldn’t go see this movie. Why do I know this? Because I am the same as you, completely uncaring about whatever anyone else has to say about it, I need to see it for myself. Luckily, you should see it, because it’s exceptional.

I didn’t expect “Mockingjay – Part Two” to square up to the likes of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” but here we are. While I still enjoyed “Catching Fire” a bit more than “Mockingjay – Part Two,” it’s very easy to pick up on all the similarities between them. Perhaps it was the use of the IMAX cameras in “Catching Fire” that enthralled me so much, but there’s something so incredibly special about that film. One thing that “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay – Part Two” do have in common is that they are near-perfect adaptions of the books that they are based upon. The only difference that I picked up on in “Mockingjay – Part Two,” other than a few minute details, were the few scenes taken over by other characters in lieu of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s place, who sadly passed away with a week left of filming. Of course, these are forgivable instances, as no one could’ve seen his passing coming.

Jennifer Lawrence, who has made a name for herself not only through this gargantuan series, but also through the art-house scene of film, primarily with director David O. Russell, again, completely owns the role of Katniss with every fiber of her being. Lawrence has never been afraid of going into darker territories with Katniss, with “Mockingjay – Part Two” being no exception, with Katniss becoming more familiar with death than ever before in this installment, leaving her more broken and vulnerable. The story of “Mockingjay – Part Two” revolves mostly around Katniss and a few other soldiers advancing into The Capitol for the final battle with the soldiers of Panem and to bring down President Snow once and for all.

For the others, Josh Hutcherson is given the most to work with this time around as Peeta, letting us see Hutcherson’s range as an actor, not just as the likable baker boy from District 12. Also given much more to work with is Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Katniss’s other love interest. Gale has always been a character who seemed to always be in the shadows, simply existing as Katniss’s old friend while newer, more exciting characters surrounded her. In “Mockingjay – Part One,” Gale was finally given his due emotionally, with “Mockingjay – Part Two” existing as his physical due, finally showing off the hunting expertise we’ve heard about from him, but hardly ever seen.

Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks return as the sweet and occasionally hilarious pairing that is Haymitch and Effie, who have been with Katniss and Peeta from the start of their nightmare. Effie is the textbook definition of character development, starting as a Capitol slave and progressing to be Katniss’s biggest supporter in her quest to dethrone Snow. Her chemistry with Haymitch is completely brought full circle here, ending us on a completely sweet note that I loved. Harrelson is as good as ever as Haymitch, who really fills out as Katniss’s father figure in her final revolutionary moments as the Mockingjay.

Philip Seymour Hoffman puts forth an almost melancholy performance as Plutarch Heavensbee, which I know is not from his performance alone, but solely from the fact that after this film, we will no longer see his face on the silver screen again, something the film world will struggle to recover from. Julianne Moore proves why she’s one of my favorite actresses as President Coin, again, showing her range, as Coin begins to slip through the cracks with power, slipping through the cracks of her true intentions, as well. Lastly mentioning, I have to give major props to Donald Sutherland, who is an unsung hero throughout the entire “Hunger Games” series and a veteran actor. The focus of these films have always been towards that of the younger actors, which is fine, but I thought it should be due time to recognize how wonderfully elegant Sutherland plays President Snow and how layered he can make a character simply from a few scenes of dialogue. Donald Sutherland, you are the real MVP.

The first “Hunger Games” movie was quite good, but looking back on it, I would’ve loved to have seen the film in current director Francis Lawrence’s hands and see how much better it could’ve been if this wonderful director had been behind the reigns. I don’t fault Gary Ross’s direction, I just would’ve loved to have seen the first film shot in a way that didn’t give me a headache. That being said, stylistically, “Mockingjay – Part Two” is consistent with “Mockingjay – Part One,” as it is a bleak, colorless and often times incredibly dimly lit world, a stark contrast from the colorful and bright world Lawrence crafted in “Catching Fire.” Of course, being the second part, the film features far more action than the first, with the scenes in The Capitol ranking just as intense as the tropical arena in “Catching Fire,” for which, I could not think of a higher compliment.

Another underdog in the “Hunger Games” franchise worth noting is James Newton Howard, the film’s composer. From the beginning, this series has excelled in creating not only memorably intense music, but completely haunting music as well. The use of a single female hum throughout the more important moments of the series is completely goosebump inducing. It’s a shame Howard never receives as much credit as he deserves on these films, because without them, they wouldn’t be the same.

I was worried about how “Mockingjay – Part Two” was going to start, but was eased once the title card came up and the film spent no time messing around with putting us in the action. The build up obviously doesn’t have to be as elaborate, seeing as it is the second part and the film swiftly puts us into motion, making the first two-thirds of “Mockingjay – Part Two” fly by.

It could be said that the final act is a bit slow moving, as the book was, but I found myself just as enthralled as before, seeing as I was very excited about how well adapted the book was to the film version. The final scenes of the film are emotionally draining and sometimes a bit (maybe more than a bit) depressing, something film viewers might not expect solely from a typical blockbuster finale, but “Mockingjay – Part Two” is anything but a blockbuster finale. The final scene alone is enough to bring tears to your eyes, given that you were invested in the story.

I spent most of “Mockingjay – Part Two” with a pit in my stomach, completely unprepared for each event I was anticipating from the book, and for many of these scenes, I wasn’t emotionally ready, which made “Mockingjay – Part Two” all the more jarring for me. The book version of “Mockingjay” (Our Lifestyle Editor, John wrote a great review of the book, here) was a bit anticlimactic for some readers, which I didn’t feel from the film. I feel as if Lionsgate’s decision to turn “Mockingjay” into two movies was the right decision. Sure, “Mockingjay – Part One” is the installment people probably got the most bored with, as it consisted mostly of dialogue between characters, but “Mockingjay – Part Two” exists as the slam-bang finale that complements “Mockingjay – Part One” so well. I would love to be able to attend the double feature of “Mockingjay – Part One” and “Mockingjay – Part Two” to view the film as one giant saga, or even to screen all four movies back-to-back, but on its own, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two” is an astounding finale that does fans of the series justice. I’m sure those who aren’t staunch fans won’t find the film quite as enthralling and masterful as I did, but I’m here to represent the fangirls, even if I didn’t arrive here by choice.

Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor.

4.75/5

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, with Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Paula Malcomson, and Patina Miller.
Runtime: 137 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.
Also available in IMAX

Lionsgate presents, a Color Force/Lionsgate production, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

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Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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