The Hunger Games cycle comes to an end in apocalyptic fashion in Mockingjay – Part 2. This is by far the darkest, most violent entry in the series, but also the best. At times, it plays more like a full-blown war movie than an adolescent adventure picture. Instead of Big Brother-style games, the last challenge for the Joan of Arc-like heroine Katniss (again played with tremendous fiery gumption by Jennifer Lawrence) is to topple the great dictator, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) himself.
Snow has been one of the best things about the series, a bearded, sleekly purring Machiavellian determined to hold on to power by any means. He is the most urbane of despots, forever sniffing at the white roses he so cherishes, and always scrupulously polite, even when shedding blood by the bucketload.
As ever, production and costume design are all over the place. Snow’s helmeted henchmen look as if they are on leave from Star Wars. There are Orwellian elements, moments that play like scenes from Second World War resistance movies, traces of Robin Hood and some very gruesome sequences involving succubus-like bogeymen in the sewers that would normally belong in a horror picture.
The new film starts with a traumatised Katniss with her neck in a brace and barely able to speak. To compound her misery, her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been tortured and brainwashed by Snow, thinks she is a monster. She is not sure that he is far wrong.
Together with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and some others, Katniss ventures to the Capitol. She is supposed to be part of the propaganda drive by the rebels as they seek to liberate the citizens of Panem, but her real intention is to make Snow pay in person for all the suffering she has endured.
The conceit here is that the rebels’ attempt to depose President Snow is played out on like TV and becomes a Hunger Games-like event in its own right – “mandatory viewing” for the citizens of Penem. The city has been booby-trapped. There are “pods” on every block, mechanisms containing hidden explosives that cause buildings to come tumbling down. In one set-piece, Katniss and her renegade band are almost drowned in a river of oil.
The kitsch, self-reflexive elements so obvious in the previous instalments have been pared right down. We barely see Stanley Tucci’s grotesquely wigged gameshow host Caesar Flickerman. The flighty, fashion-obsessed chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) doesn’t have much screen time either. Disconcertingly, one character who does feature fairly prominently is rebel mastermind Plutarch Heavensbee, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in early 2014. Also prominent is Julianne Moore’s President Alma Coin, who opposes Snow but shares his ruthlessness.
In the earlier films, Katniss was buffeted along, reacting to events over which she had no control. Now, finally, she is firmly on the front foot. Lawrence brings real depth to the character, showing her doubt as well as her courage and, late on, the explosive grief that she feels.
Mockingjay – Part 1 was anticlimactic. It was frustrating that the filmmakers felt compelled to split the third book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy into two separate features. With Mockingjay – Part 2, Hunger Games gets the finale it deserves. This, though, is a film whose bleakness may take some younger fans of the series by surprise.