Panem Forever: A Review of Mockingjay Part 2

WARNING: Contains Spoilers for Mockingjay Part 2, and the Mockingjay novel. Obvs.

If you are looking for something to be thankful for this holiday season, not being any of the characters in Mockingjay Part 2 is a pretty good place to start your list. The final chapter of the Hunger Games tetrology was released on Friday, November 20, and as you might recall from my post about Mockingjay Part 1, I was really looking forward to seeing nothing good happen to anyone in the thrilling conclusion of the series. And I’m glad to say that Part 2 certainly delivered!

In case you need a refresher: Mockingjay Part 1 left off when Peeta was rescued from the Capitol prisons and taken to District 13, the base of the rebellion against the Capitol forces, where he immediately went mad and tried to strangle Katniss. Part 2 begins almost literally where the last film ended, with Katniss in the hospital ward, her neck battered and bruised, as the medics evaluate the damage to her neck and vocal chords. We learn he’s been essentially brainwashed by the Capitol to hate Katniss, and they attempt to rehabilitate him. The audience is thrown right back into the story with no recap of the last film, which I appreciated. With a run time of two hours and sixteen minutes and half an action-packed novel to get through, the filmmakers make it clear right from the start that there is no room for fluff in the film. 

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Mockingjay Part 2 has a very quick pace, as each scene transitions rapidly into the next to ensure everything fits into the film. The dialogue is relatively clipped and quick, and action sequences are so fast it can be a little difficult to see and appreciate the awesome fight choreography at times (I definitely wish we’d gotten a more dramatic view of Finnick fighting off the lizard-mutts in the sewers). There are very few moments of silence; barely any slow, quiet, lingering shots for the viewers to absorb what is happening on screen, unlike the previous films which gave us the opportunity to slowly view a field of dead children, the destruction of an arena, and the terror of families packed into an underground bomb shelter during an attack and absorb the horror of violence and war. 

For the most part I appreciated this fast pace; for one thing, it can be considered a reflection of what the characters themselves would be experiencing. In the heat of war and battle, a person has little time to mull over their experiences and pontificate about what it all means- they simply focus on surviving, on reacting, on getting to the next point in their mission. Plus, almost every scene from the book made it into the film, and the fast tracked dialogue and scene transitions is what made this possible. However, the rapid fire pace of scenes also took a lot of the tragedy and drama of the ending away, and this is the biggest qualm I have with Part 2. 

In the novel, we see Katniss suffer severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing her younger sister Prim being burnt alive in an explosion right before her eyes. Katniss becomes a psychological mute for weeks, wrestles with the dilemma about whether the attack that killed her sister was orchestrated by the evil President Snow or the potentially evil and self-serving President Coin, the leader of District 13 and the rebellion. We see her struggle with the decision to kill Snow or Coin at what should have been Snow’s execution, and when she decides to kill Coin instead we witness her lose her mind, attempt to kill herself, and scream for Gale to kill her when her attempt fails as she is hauled away to solitary confinement for the course of her trial. In the novel, after her pardon Katniss spends weeks, perhaps months, back in District 12 in a deep depression as she tries to cope with what her life has become. 

In the film, these events occur but very quickly and without a hint of the truly severe levels of PTSD we saw Katniss experience in the second and third films: in Catching Fire we see her experiencing flashbacks to killing the District 1 tribute, and Mockingjay Part 1 focused heavily of Katniss’s trouble reintegrating into society and struggle to cope with the capture of Peeta by the Capitol. In Part 2, however, it appears Katniss is relatively able to take everything in stride. She doesn’t even get the burn scars that serve as a physical reminder of the fiery death of her sister. Katniss is certainly in some level of shock after Prim’s death and the end of the war, but she is also still functioning relatively normally; this is what I take the most issue with in the film. The fact that Katniss appears to still be pretty much the same girl we met in the Hunger Games by the end of this series ultimately changes the entire course of the story. The theme that “no one ever wins the Hunger Games” goes out the window with the film’s almost lighthearted ending, showing Katniss returning to District 12 where she is sad for a little while, but then meets a cat, feels better, and goes hunting until she meets Peeta again and then everything is relatively fine. We don’t see the true struggle of returning to a ‘normal’ life post-war, and I think it ultimately alters the tone of the series’ ending.

The glossing over of Katniss’s difficult adjusting to post-war life was hands down the biggest issue I had with the film. There were only a few other points I wished they’d done differently, which is impressive when you consider my typical book-purist attitude. For example, I was very disappointed they cut out the sequence where Katniss and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone freaking killed the role again, by the way. I want to see a movie starring just her as Johanna) join the District 13 army and are trained to be proper soldiers, bonding over the difficulty of training while recovering from debilitating injuries and psychological trauma. I understand that such a sequence would have taken a lot of valuable time to do well, so I don’t begrudge this change (Katniss makes it to the Capitol by stowing away on a hovercraft delivering supplies to the front lines instead of being officially deployed), but I had been looking forward to a cool training montage. 

Additionally, I feel like President Snow was in far too good of a mood (and way too free; where are all the tracking devices he’s chained with? Why is he allowed to just chill, walking the greenhouse freely with only two guards at the door?) when Katniss confronts him in his greenhouse prison after the war. He seemed downright chipper as he discussed the fateful bombs that killed Prim and ended the war, when I feel like the scene needed to be a little heavier. After all, it is this moment that gives Katniss the push to assassinate Coin at Snow’s execution. I feel the lighthearted conversation Snow had with her fails to demonstrate how complicated the situation has become for Katniss. 

Elizabeth Banks once again rocked the role of Effie Trinket, and I had really enjoyed Effie’s farewell scene with Katniss and Haymitch until her awkward kiss with Haymitch— there was no tongue or anything like that, but it was still weird and out of place. I also really wanted her to give them the District 12 farewell salute as they walked away, but that’s just me and not an actual issue with the adaptation. 

I also really wish that the film had ended with Katniss singing to her children, the song leading us into the credits; if you’ve read the book, you know it ends with the lyrics of the song Katniss sang to Prim as a child, and to Rue during her death. The film ends with Katniss holding one of her children, an infant, while Peeta plays with their other child in the meadow. Katniss recounts to the infant how she struggles with nightmares too (as the baby was sleeping fitfully) and that she copes with them by remembering good things she sees people do. The screen then goes to black, and then the song begins; though it is sung by Jennifer Lawrence, I think having Katniss sing it while still on screen, fading to black and then transitioning to the credits with her continuing to sing would have been a far more powerful ending, and a great way to bookend the films, as the first film features her singing the same song to Prim early on. It was just a missed opportunity for a strong impact at the end of the series, and it is rather bugging me.

Okay, now that I’ve gone over my qualms with the film, let’s focus on the awesome stuff!

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As I said, they did a wonderful job of fitting nearly every scene and event from the novel into the film. We got to see District 2, Katniss’ struggle with the rules of war (or lack thereof) when the rebels decide to bomb a building filled with civilians, Finnick and Annie’s wedding (including Katniss dancing with Prim), we see all the members of Squad 451 and their experiences making their way through the booby trapped Capitol. We got to see Tigress, a former Games stylist who gives the surviving members of the Squad a hiding place and disguises (kudos to the costume team of this film by the way; Tigris looked exactly how I pictured her from the books, and the Capitol fashions we see throughout Katniss’s journey to Snow’s mansion are so cool!). They included the little girl with the lemon yellow coat Katniss locks eyes with during her trek to the President’s Mansion (thankfully they did not include watching the same little girl get shot to pieces- a change I was actually glad of. Hooray for the PG-13 rating, I guess!). 

I was focusing on the costumes and makeup more than I was focusing on the movie itself at times—in a good way!

I was focusing on the costumes and makeup more than I was focusing on the movie itself at times—in a good way!

The entire Capitol attack segment was amazing. The trap pods were terrifying and just as described in the novels; even knowing what was going to happen (or perhaps especially because I knew what was probably going to happen), I jumped in my seat when the pod that ultimately kills Bogg’s went off, and when Mitchell got caught in the barbed wire net. I was gripping the arms of my chair and leaning forward when the hissing of the lizard mutts in the sewers began—the lizard mutts, by the way, were wonderfully terrifying and well done! They looked more like the monsters from The Descent than lizards, but they were effective. While this round of CGI monsters cannot truly redeem the evil pug-like mutts from the first film, since that film wasn’t Francis Lawrence’s fault, I’m willing to call it even. 

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The supporting characters really brought their A-game to this piece as well. Julianne Moore continued to be an amazing Alma Coin, showing her true character through dialogue with Plutarch and an evolution of the way she carries herself and speaks to Katniss and others. Moore subtly transitions from the competent president of District 13 to a potentially evil, self-appointed Perpetual President of Panem. Gwendoline Christie (you probably know her as Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones) was really awesome as Lyme, the commander of the District 2 rebels and a victor from a previous Hunger Games. I wish we could have seen more of her, even though the role she performed was exactly as it was in the novel—giving her a larger part would have been a major change from the source material I could get behind. It was bizarre to hear her speak with an (mostly) American accent, though. 

And the costume department continues to KILL it with President Coin’s Evil Villain outfit.

And the costume department continues to KILL it with President Coin’s Evil Villain outfit.

Patina Miller reprised her role as Commander Paylor and was truly phenomenal- she gave a wonderful speech in the film that was not in the book, but it was powerful and moving and a great addition. Plus her outfit was freakin’ gorgeous. Another 10 points to the costume department! The members of Squad 451 were also amazing; Michelle Forbes was a perfect Lieutenant Jackson, the Leeg Sisters (Misty Ormiston and Kim Ormiston) were heartbreaking as they sacrificed themselves for their Squad. Mahershala Ali continued to be awesome as Boggs (in fact I really wish he’d gotten more screen time, and I was bummed they left out the bit about him having a son, to give him more depth of character), and Elden Henson really made Pollux into a true character we felt for- not an easy task to do when you technically have no real lines (but whose heart wouldn’t break watching Foggy Nelson cry over his brother’s gruesome death?). And of course Natalie Dormer continued to steal our hearts (and I think a few other character’s lines) as the badass, tattooed Cressida. 

I think that the filmmakers did a solid job handling the loss of the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman as well. Shortly after his unfortunate death, I recall reading that most of his scenes had been shot already; except for one, which they planned to replace with Haymitch instead. I’m fairly certain this scene must have been the one in the books where Plutarch flies with Katniss on a hovercraft as she returns to District 12 after her trial, where he talks with her about the future of Panem and wonders if this war will be the time peace and unity finally sticks with the human race. In the film, they alter this so that Haymitch comes to Katniss to explain she will be returning to District 12 and brings a letter from Plutarch that is almost word-for-word the book conversation he had with her. They explain the letter away with a line about Plutarch supporting her actions during her trial but being unable to publicly link himself with her at the moment because of politics. I’m very glad they gave a reason for the letter that actually makes sense in context of the situation, and I’m even more glad they didn’t try to somehow CGI Seymour Hoffman into the scene instead. I think it was delicately done, and was a change that worked in the narrative of the story, and while I of course can’t speak for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, I do think this is a piece that he would have been proud to be a part of. His performance was wonderful and the end product of the whole film is a beautiful conclusion to the series.

Lastly, I was incredibly happy that the filmmakers included the scene in which Buttercup, Prim’s cat, returns to District 12. For one thing the cat was still a proper “buttercup” orange color (as opposed to the first film’s rando black and white cat), and for another it was a powerful scene in which Katniss finally begins to come to terms with the loss of her sister. Side note, I love Jennifer Lawrence for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that I really appreciate that she looks like a normal human being when she cries. A lot of films have actors and actress breaking down, tears in their eyes never altering their perfected-for-film makeup, their faces not swollen from the exertion of crying, or anything that could muss with their Hollywood look. Not so with J. Law; she goes all in as she breaks down in the scene with Buttercup, sobbing uncontrollably, her mouth contorting and quivering, her face reddening and getting puffy—hell, she even drooled like a normal human would when emotionally shattered and unable to control her body as it reacts. I am an ugly crier myself, guys, and it’s seriously awesome to see someone completely lose it mentally and physically on screen instead of the sanitized breakdowns we usually get. 

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The lack of depiction of Katniss’s struggle to adapt to a new, post-war life is definitely the biggest issue I have with the film, but at the same time it was not a big enough qualm to dampen my overall enjoyment and opinion of the piece. Though there were a few other issues I had, my overall opinion of the movie is that it was a wonderful adaptation of the second half of the novel and was a wonderful end piece to the film series. I have not felt this satisfied about the conclusion of a film series adapted from a book since The Return of the King (although that still had some issues I’ll save for another day…).

Now all I really want is a film about the final, symbolic Hunger Games featuring Capitol children. It would be fascinating to see how the new unified Panem handles the event, and how they treat the surviving “winner” of the Games in the aftermath of their supposed justice and in their new unified nation. Maybe Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence will team up again in the future so we can see what really became of Panem after the Mockingkay retired to District 12? Time will tell…

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the finale to the series as much as I did, and have a wonderful holiday season. May the odds be ever in your favor.