“The Hunger Games,” the pinnacle of young adult science fiction in the new millennium. The original was a pleasant surprise that finally made a genre menacing enough to mean something. The sequel was erratic, but equally successful as a dystopian thriller. The previous film, Mockingjay Part 1, was a quieter and more complex undertaking, casting the games aside to explore propaganda and the political machinations of war. Part 2 continues that trend on a broader scale, with more war for your wallet, and a pervading sense of doom that will either impress you or depress you, depending on your expectations.
Jennifer Lawrence is as commanding as ever, superbly navigating the bravery and vulnerability that’s become of Katniss Everdeen. Josh Hutcherson is appropriately dour as a Peeta Malark who can’t be trusted, and Liam Hemsworth does what he can with a thankless role. His Gale Hawthorne never rises above “other guy” status, even when a devastating tragedy brings other motives to light. Donald Sutherland is infinitely more interesting this go around as an ailing President Snow who knows the end is near, his eternal, goading sneer forever belying a resigned fate. While Jena Malone and Sam Claflin have their moments to move the needle as Johanna and Finnick, respectively, franchise favorites like Effie and Beetee fade into the background as director Francis Lawrence places heavy emphasis, and rightfully so, on the relationship between Katniss and Peeta.
The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman radiates warm intelligence in his few minutes of screen time, his absence mournfully noted in a closing scene when Haymitch reads Katniss a handsome note from Plutarch Heavansbee, dialogue obviously meant for the political genius himself. Julianne Moore returns as President Coin, whose limited screen time works to the plot’s disadvantage if you’ve forgotten everything about her from Part 1, which I did. Despite Coin’s abrupt character arc, her decisions highlight the film’s ultimate message: dictatorships are difficult to shake. When one falls, another rises. It’s cyclical. It’s nature. Once they assume power, Coin and members of her cabinet crave public executions, even entertaining the idea of staging their own Hunger Games. On the heels of a game-clinching win for the rebels, this is a thematically daring direction for the story, askewing conventional carthasis in favor of probing a disturbing political trend. Regardless, that lack of carthasis is particularly annoying, depriving an audience of proper emotional fervor following three movies where their favorite characters suffered handily at the hands of the Capitol.
It’s possible to illicit cheers without glorifying war, but director Lawrence has taken the work of Suzanne Collins and crafted a world where success is incremental, where ethical boundaries are pilfered, and moral quandaries are measured no matter who’s holding a white flag at the end of the day. “Mockingjay” may be melancholy to a fault, but it’s also a compelling depiction of society at war with itself, and a reminder that there is no honor in winning such a war. There is only death, destruction, and the slightest silver lining that you may live to tell your children about it.