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The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 review: The books got worse, but the films just get better.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t like Mockingjay that much.

It was the weakest book in The Hunger Games series, but I was driven to finish it by an obsessive desire to know what happened to the people of Panem.

So, my expectations for the fourth movie in the The Hunger Games franchise were not high. It turns out though, that watching The Hunger Games movies is actually the inverse of reading the books, and Mockingjay Part 2 is an engaging, thrilling, and importantly restrained end to the franchise.

First, you need to be up to date.

Maybe if I had imagined these characters as attractively as they have been realised on film I would have enjoyed the book more.

Before we get started Spoiler Alert! For all the Hunger Games books and movies. All of them.

Katniss Everdeen is a kid from the coal-mining district of fascist future-world Panem. She volunteers to take the place of her little sister Prim in the annual Hunger Games, a deadly competition that pits kids from the 12 districts against each other in a fight to the death. Katniss and fellow district 12 tribute Peeta Mellark manage to co-win the games through the cultivation of a love story. Their victory undermines the Capitol and makes dictator-in-chief President Snow, very very unhappy.

During their victory tour of the districts, people begin to revolt against Snow and the Capitol, taking inspiration from Katniss and using her Mockingjay call to signify their defiance.

Snow plots to kill Katniss. He devises a different format for the next Hunger Games, forcing Katniss and Peeta back into the arena, alongside other former victors. But rebels hijack the games and bring Katniss to safety. Peeta is left behind to be tortured and brainwashed.

Julianne Moore as President Coin.

The rebels are led by President Coin, and are hidden in the remains of thought-destroyed district 13. They embark on a propaganda campaign using Katniss as their symbol of freedom and the people of the districts eventually rise up. Panem, at the end of Mockingjay Part 1, is in revolt.

Peeta and fellow victor Johanna Mason are rescued from the capitol and brought back to district 13. Where unstable, brainwashed Peeta tries to kill Katniss.

Also there is a boy from district 12 called Gale. He loves Katniss. Katniss doesn’t know whether she loves him or Peeta.

Which brings us to Mockingjay Part 2.

So much to remember.

You had better know the backstory before you go in, because this movie isn’t going to hold your hand while you get up to speed. There’s no unnecessary exposition at all. It is tightly plotted and edited, and is all the better for it.

Jennifer Lawrence is great. I hate Katniss. She is a terrible, selfish, ridiculous person and I don’t understand why anyone would rally around her. Lawrence manages to find a way to make her less awful, and despite myself I want her to succeed. Her performance is nuanced and clever.

One of the best things about a franchise is the rapport that actors develop while filming that translates onto the screen. The Harry Potter cast had it. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench just got better as Bond and M with each film they made together. As core characters Peeta, Gale Hawthorne, Haymich Abernathy, Effie Trinket, and Katniss, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Lawrence have it too.

The team that pranks together… stays together? (Post continues after video.)

Video via Smosh
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They use that connection to great effect in Mockingjay Part 2, although Harrelson, a previous District 12 victor and Katniss’ mentor, should have been given more to do.

Jenna Malone as Johanna continues to be a wonderful, crazy surprise. And (I was skeptical) it turns out they really had filmed enough scenes with Phillip Seymour Hoffman to make it work.

All the actors in this film are top-notch, with Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland rounding out the A-list cast as opposing presidents.

There is real suspense as Katniss and her team inch toward Snow’s mansion on an unauthorised mission to assassinate him. I knew the story, I knew who dies and when, and I knew how, but they still made me jump in my seat a few times.

The Hunger Games series is unsettling because the story is a deft blend of the ridiculous and the possible. It feels trite to link a money-making behemoth to global events, but watching as the leaders on both sides of the revolution exploited fear, used innocent civilians as pawns, and twisted the facts into advantageous propaganda, it is hard not to think about some of what is happening in the world today.

The lessons here are old, but very relevant. Power corrupts. Governments should not be given too much control. Surveillance does not equal safety.

Watch the trailer here (post continues after video)

I don’t like Katniss because she refuses to care about the bigger picture. She is always thinking small. Her concerns are her family, her friends, the disruptions to her life.

Her battles are all too personal.

An entire nation rises and falls based on who she’s pissed at and why. But of course, in the end she gets it right, and she takes a personal risk for a cause beyond her own tight little circle without anyone having to cajole her into it.

Mockingjay Part 2 threads this needle perfectly. It is satisfying and clever, and at no point does it feel laboured or long. It is a great end to the series, and a more than generous adaption of the book.

Mockingjay Part 2 is in cinemas now.

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