by Jeff Walls
Adapting young adult novels into big screen franchises has been popular in Hollywood for more than ten years now. The Harry Potter movies really started it, while the so-called “craze” really started with 2008’s Twilight. Many of the attempts to take advantage of this craze have failed to find a wide audience, but a few have broken out from the pack to become legitimate blockbuster franchises. Currently, franchises like Divergent and The Maze Runner have found success, but the queen jewel of the heap is certainly The Hunger Games franchise, which now concludes with Mockingjay Part 2.
The movie opens right where Part 1 left off. Our hero, Katniss, is recovering from a shocking attack by Peeta, her former ally in the arena. We learn that Peeta has been injected with Tracker Jacker venom and conditioned by the evil President Snow to believe that Katniss is his mortal enemy. As if she needed any more reason to hate Snow, this sets Katniss off on a mission to kill her nemesis and end his reign of terror over the land of Panem.
Katniss joins forces with her friend Gale and a military unit who attempt to find their way to Snow’s palace through the Capitol. That means navigating the world’s most deadly obstacle course, though, as Snow has recruited his game-makers to create thousands of killer booby traps across the landscape. Victory is not going to be easy, nor will it come without costing various lives.
The movie’s opening is strange in that it is not really an opening at all. Rather, it felt like the audience was returning from a year-long intermission. Mockingjay is not the first book to be turned into two movies. The Harry Potter franchise separated its final book into two movies and Peter Jackson turned the relatively small Hobbit novel into three lengthy movies. Whereas those franchises found a rather exciting way to open their finales, the Mockingjay Part 2 opening is more of a slow burn. The action happened at the end of the last movie and what we see first here is the aftermath.
The movie slowly sets up its final assault on the Capitol and although it does take a while to get there, the wait is definitely worth it. The entire second act of the movie is a thoroughly exciting action thriller that keeps its audience on the edge of their seats for a good portion of the movie. There is the thrill of evading Snow’s deadly traps combined with the intense sequence in the sewers that felt like something out of James Cameron’s Aliens, while still maintaining its individuality.
With full-on war and rebellion going on, the movie’s love triangle feels somewhat childish and forced, but it is nevertheless necessary to flesh out Gale’s full character arc. The acting in the film is terrific, including what sadly turned out to be the final performance of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, a fact that we are reminded of within the initial minute of the movie when his face essentially takes over the entire frame. There is a scene towards the end in which it seems clear he was meant to appear, but fortunately the movie found an alternative to using a computer representation of the actor as some films in the past have attempted in such a situation.
The movie ends with some questions of morality which I will not bring up here, but those are issues that readers of the novel will be well familiar with. There were some people with whom I screened that movie who took exception to this twist that came near the end of the book and I imagine the response will be the same with the movie, so whether or not the series finale is found to be satisfying or not will likely depend on each audience member’s individual perspective. Personally, I found it to be a satisfying end to what turned out to be a fairly entertaining franchise. It does take the Lord of the Rings approach to wrapping up a franchise by ending a couple of times, though, so don’t be fooled by that premature fade to black.
Mockingjay Part 2 opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? It’s reportedly gonna happen! Until then, eat local before you go!