The Hunger Games series has been, for me, one of the cinematic highlights of the past five years, not least for how it has helped catapult Jennifer Lawrence to stardom. In particular, the second film, Catching Fire, was exceptionally good; and so I was anxious that the final installment in the series would provide a satisfying and worthy ending. It largely delivers, and is better than I feared it would be–though perhaps not as good as it might have been.
It’s impossible to avoid discussing the decision to stretch one book over two films. I’ve not read the books, but taking the films as they stand now it feels like an artistically wrong decision. That said, certain people shared hundreds of millions of extra dollars out of that decision and that’s the world we live in. The entry that suffered the most was not this film but Mockingjay: Part I, which had the unenviable task of setting up the last movie while containing comparatively little action or plot development that could not have been easily covered in an extra half hour here.
As it stands, because of the extra film Mockingjay: Part II is able to launch more or less straight into the action and maintains a high pace throughout. I did expect there to be more mass fighting and generally more scenes featuring large numbers of people, but instead we focus on a small squad of elite soldiers infiltrating the Capitol. The group includes most of the series’ main surviving characters and a couple of new faces. The famous love triangle is resolved during the course of the film and I don’t think anyone will be taken by surprise, but it’s handled well and everything feels right. Well, except one scene where Gale awkwardly insists on talking to Peeta about Katniss well within her earshot. Dick move.
The overall tone of the film is one of bleak defiance which sits well in the arc of the series as a whole. One of the things that has impressed and surprised me about these films has been the theme of popular resistance and rebellion which is rather uncommon in this kind of cinema. Ordinary people and their lives are shown as dignified and heroic, even while living in poverty and oppression, and the potential for progressive collective action on a mass scale is a rich seam throughout the series. Furthermore, the films have done a great job of depicting the Capitol, and President Snow in particular, as a calculating, manipulative and utterly relentless agency that will stop at nothing to hold onto power. It’s one of the most interesting and, I would argue, ultimately left-wing interpretations of class and power relations that I’ve seen for some time. Towards the end of this film there is a little twist which amplifies this theme and I thought was handled well. By the end of the series it felt like Katniss Everdeen was channeling the spirit of Che Guevara, and she should go down in cinematic history as an iconic and inspirational character.
I’m not so sure that the series as a whole will have the kind of enduring greatness that I hoped for when I first saw Catching Fire. The decision to split the last book in two is part of that, but I also have reservations about the ending. Obviously hands were tied to a certain extent by the books, but nevertheless, various aspects of the conclusion just didn’t ring true to me. Suffice to say that most of the greatest works of fiction are ones where you don’t get a happy ending. There are various reasons for that, but I think that really most of us accept deep-down that the world usually works out a certain way and it’s rarely happy. I hoped for more from a series that has been characterized throughout by courage and honesty. But, in the end, money talks, and they’ve certainly made a lot of money out of this franchise.
I wonder where Jennifer Lawrence will go from here. For a few years she has been hitting it out of the park with almost every movie, making bank with this series and the brilliant X-men films as well as outstanding dramas like Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook. I hope that she takes to heart the best things about this series, and particularly the Katniss character she played so well, when choosing her future roles. And enough films with David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper already.