Some stories should be told in pieces. The long form story can be an amazing gift; it helps build tension and develops both characters and plotlines. While a good thing in most respects, especially in serialized television, it has always been a mixed bag in movies. Unfortunately, Mockingjay while still a stellar adaptation, suffered from some of the negative aspects of this kind of storytelling.
From the first moments of the film, it is obvious this movie has no interest in catching up the audience that has been waiting for a year to see it. While I applaud the filmmakers for going this route and not feeling the need to hand-hold the audience, it does prove to be a major obstacle for the success of this final chapter. Because, as good as this film is, and as well made as it is, there is absolutely no build up. It is all payoff. Like the final "part two" installments of Twilight and Harry Potter, this movie basically wraps up every character, plot thread, threat, and relationship the series has established over the previous three movies. Characters speak using shorthand for things we should already know, and they die without getting to know them in this movie at all.
Yet when viewed as a part of a whole, Mockingjay Part 2 is wildly successful -- especially as an adaptation of a series of books that had some issues with pacing and narrative structure. Basically, the things in the final book that were hard for me to wrap my head around because they weren't described well enough, play out in the movie as some of the most intense and dramatic stuff in the entire series. That's saying something for a group of films about a post apocalyptic world where children fight to the death in arena games.
The plot also feels incomplete, which makes sense considering it is the second part of what is essentially a five hour movie. This makes some of the more subtle touches, especially a few character arcs, a little jarring and out of place. While I enjoyed that stuff as a fan of the entire book series, their inclusion felt out of place in this film. The biggest of these plot lines that really shouldn't have been a thing at all is the forced love triangle. It distracts from the story, feels totally out of place, and doesn't add to the drama at all. At least it isn't front and center, and there is more than enough remaining material to enjoy.
Anchoring the series once again is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, who is basically in every single scene, and has to play stoic without being boring or totally unemotional. She manages to pull off that tricky line nearly perfectly with a character who is bordering on totally broken. Thankfully, the same can be said for Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, who finally showed he can actually act. He made a character that I never liked into a fully fleshed out person that I could root for in the end.
Most of the supporting cast is the same, although they are primarily bit players to Katniss and Peeta. Donald Sutherland stood out to me as Snow, and Julianne Moore as Coin. I won't go into details for those who haven't read the books, but they are both nearly perfect in their roles. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last film performance, didn't have quite the showing that I'd hoped, but his presence is felt in just the right way.
Probably the real success of this film is in the direction and effects, sound, music, and editing. The nearly non-stop pacing is fairly well done. The set design and costuming are also excellent, improving on some of the funkier choices in the previous entries. The effects and sound are very strong and appropriately creepy. Two standout scenes for me involve a massive trap including a wave of black goo, and a scene set underground that felt like it could be in a Ridley Scott science fiction horror movie.
Which brings me to the tone of the film. In short, it is somber, dark, and unrelentingly brutal. While that fits the series and the story being told, it does mean things are taken perhaps too seriously, and if you aren't already on board for these movies, it might feel a bit self-important. The same can be said for how the movie handles character deaths. They happen so quickly, and the story moves on from them too fast, so there is little time to grieve until much later on.
All in all though, this is a very strong adaptation and a solid end to a good group of films.
3 out of 4 Mockingjay symbols.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.