This article contains plot spoilers.
There’s always a great deal of anticipation regarding the final film in a series as successful, and embedded in such an extensive fan network, as The Hunger Games.
The final film needs to develop a discrete story so that is still comprehensible to an audience of non-initiates, while at the same time referring back to and tying together the narrative, themes, and character relationships of the films that preceded it.
It needs to satisfy fans of the series by clearly wrapping everything up, but it needs to do more than that.
Series become, for fans, a kind of environment. The films become the backgrounds of lives, and there can be comfort in the knowledge that, at a certain time of the year (or every couple of years), another film in the series will be released. Think about what the end of the year meant to Harry Potter fans.
Final films, therefore, need to leave viewers with a sense of completion, but also with satisfaction regarding the future world for the characters they have come to know and love. The final scene in which we see our heroes will be the scene they inhabit for the rest of time.
The new Hunger Games film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II, effectively fulfills the first two requirements, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its ultimate presentation of its characters.
The narrative follows an “impossible mission” type structure (The Dirty Dozen, 1967, The Devil’s Brigade, 1968, The Expendables, 2010) with a band of rebel heroes up against the odds on a mission through hostile territory, dodging myriad pitfalls along the way.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a small rebel unit, including the apices of the series’ love triangle, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), into the Capital in order to assassinate dictator Snow (Donald Sutherland).
A series that began with such a razor-sharp first film was at risk, in the third film, Mockingjay Part I (2014), of devolving into the kind of tedious epic spectacle that characterised the later films of the Twilight series.
But Part II redeems the series through its spare approach to both design and story. One of the strengths of the films in the series has, indeed, been the simplicity of their narrative architecture.
The rendering of the world, in this film, as a kind of “game” – “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games,” Finnick (Sam Claflin) says as they embark on their mission – beautifully ties together the first and fourth films.
The world becomes a kind of literalisation of the “gamespace” described by cultural theorist McKenzie Wark in Gamer Theory (2007) – a gridded world of positive and negative choices, with ruthless competition and clearly attainable booty as the reward.
Various plot twists and turns occur as they edge closer to the Capitol. But the ending – the victory of the revolution against the Capital – is noticeably anticlimactic.
“Victory” in war, the film indicates, is little more than a spectacular sham – perhaps less brutal than the circus spectacles orchestrated by Snow - and yet hardly more ethically sound.