The dystopian YA franchise that has made an indelible mark on popular culture has reached its final chapter with the release of Lionsgate’s Mockingjay Part 2 on November 20. As has become somewhat of a trend for blockbuster YA properties adapted to screen, the final book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy (Scholastic Press) was split into two separate films; Mockingjay Part 1 came out in 2014. Reprising their roles for the second half of Mockingjay are Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, and Liam Hemsworth as Gale. Francis Lawrence returns as director.
The film picks up with Panem in the midst of a revolutionary war; Katniss has taken on the role of Mockingjay, or leader of the rebellion, despite her reluctance. As she and the other rebels fight to overthrow President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland), the war continues to take its toll both on Katniss’s mental and emotional state, as well as on those she loves.
Considered by many to be the darkest of the Hunger Games novels, Mockingjay is closely concerned with the impact of war on survivors. From the onset of the story, Katniss is suffering from severe psychological stress in the aftermath of the games and upon returning to the now underground District 13. As such, she takes on her role of rebellion leader with such hesitance that, in some sections, she is relegated to the sidelines of the main action.
The first Mockingjay film, which grossed more than $335 million domestically, put to rest any speculation that the final two adaptations would steer away from the novel’s bleak tone and content. Though the movie did show Katniss as being somewhat more active in the rebellion than she was in the book, the depth of her anguish and despair is evident. Reviewers have responded to the film’s darkness and violence – certainly not a new criticism waged against the Hunger Games, whether in-print or on-screen. Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt commented in her review that Mockingjay Part 2 is too dark for its intended audience, saying: “The first two films managed the challenge of visually presenting the books’ violence without tipping into territory their target demo couldn’t handle. Mockingjay, though, strays too far into darkness: with its political power struggles and prodigious body count, all rendered in a thousand shades of wintry greige, the movie feels less like teen entertainment than a sort of Hunger Games of Thrones.”
In response to such criticism, director Lawrence has recently defended the violence in the movie, saying: “Suzanne wrote these books with the intention of writing about the consequence of war for teenagers. And you go to make a movie about the same thing, and I think part of the reason the books are so popular is that she did not flinch. She didn’t patronize kids.”
While the first Mockingjay installment may have left viewers hanging at a crisis moment, the second film promises resolution – whether this resolution will be exactly in line with the book’s, is for spoiler-conscientious reviewers to know and fans to find out. That is, unless someone else spills the beans. During an interview at the movie’s London premiere, Jennifer Lawrence may have accidentally divulged a key change made to the film. When asked what she felt was the most difficult scene to film in Mockingjay Part 2, she responded “Snow’s assassination.” However, in the book – spoiler ahead – when Katniss has an opportunity to kill Snow, instead she kills President Coin, a twist that left some readers dissatisfied. If Lawrence’s slip is any indication, viewers may be in for an ending that they weren’t expecting.
With some YA film adaptations of recent years showing lackluster performances at the box office, The Hunger Games has served as a paragon of success. As the series concludes, it leaves ample room for the next potential YA blockbuster to fill its Capital Couture shoes.
For additional coverage of Mockingjay Part 2, look for the next installment of PW at the Movies.