On a bitterly cold November Saturday afternoon I squeezed myself into one of only three remaining seats in the biggest screen of my nearest multiplex to watch another Young Adult literary adaptation come to a close with a financially-motived two-part finale.
Sandwiched in the winter release schedule between two all-conquering, long-running franchise juggernauts (Bond in October and Star Wars in December), it is easy to forget how eagerly-anticipated Mockingjay – Part 2 was before Spectre and The Force Awakens stole all the column inches.
But being an underdog never stopped Katniss Everdeen (J-Law) before, and it seems audiences have stuck around to see her war against a brutal, dystopian system come to a head. Or should that be “point”?
With fellow victor of the 74th Hunger Games, Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), brainwashed against her cause, Katniss defies the wishes of District 13 leader Alma Coin (Moore; never severe enough) and leads a group of gun-toting revolutionaries – including best-friend-and-potential-lover Gale (Hemsworth), camera director Cressida (Dormer) and a volatile Peeta (for propaganda’s sake) – into Panem’s Capitol to capture the barbaric President Snow (Sutherland) and end his reign of terror.
Opening with a surprisingly low-key but satisfyingly metaphoric scene of a voiceless Katniss croaking through the pain of a strangling at Peeta’s Capitol-controlled hand, returning director Francis Lawrence perfectly bridges the short gap between Parts 1 and 2 without need for flashbacks or recaps, before things kick in to overdrive.
Under attack, Katniss’s “Star Squad” descends underground to avoid a multitude of Snow’s covertly-placed “pods”. These booby traps are the most overt attempt to shamelessly replicate the game template of the first novel (already lazily rehashed in #2, Catching Fire), but thankfully Finnick Odair (Claflin) acknowledges this similarity with an ironic quip before things move on.
The action is explosive, entertaining, varied, often scary and relentless, which is impressive given how screenplay writers Craig and Strong have expanded half a story into a 137min epic. The running time whizzes along despite the presence of political factors which threaten to grind the story to a halt. Unfortunately, the pace does slows to a crawl in the third act, before a low-key coda closes this grandiose spectacle with a personal-but-underwhelming whimper which never attempts to depict how Katniss’s actions have affected Panem’s future.
Crucially, however, this is not enough to detract too heavily from this fourth instalment’s strengths, and I was pleased with many of the stylistic choices. Thankfully the ever-expanding cast means that the uncomfortably bizarre feline-featured Tigris (Bondurant) is reduced to two fleeting scenes in what is a sombre and darkly-toned film which all but grey-scales the colourful palette which swamped the earlier films in gaudy excess.
While The Hunger Games is too bleak and dour to ever be my favourite literary or cinematic saga (the ridiculous spellings also add a level of disconnect which does not sit well with me), Mockingjay – Part 2 is confident and spectacular enough to do justice to Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy and keep the franchise ever in the fans’ favour.