Sunday, November 22, 2015

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2"

[For write-up and pictures from "The Hunger Games" stars' appearances at Comic-Con and the Conan O'Brien late night show, click here]

The end of the journey.  It sounds so final, yet here we are and it's bittersweet.  When "The Hunger Games" premiered in 2012, with a seemingly simplistic premise, I did not anticipate how deep and absorbing a sci-fi YA adaptation could be.  And how it could maintain its momentum installment after installment.

By now we all know that teenagers forced to fight one another in a life-or-death game hosted by a rich totalitarian government as entertainment only scratches the surface.  The Hunger Games is not a game.  What starts off as a personal story of survival for Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle," "X-Men: First Class") turns her into a symbol of defiance against the cruel system, and a beacon of hope for her impoverished and oppressed people to rise up.

And rise up they did.  The political propaganda machine from 'Mockingjay Part 1" continues from President Coin (Julianne Moore), the dissident leader, who expects Katniss to continue to pose for the cameras and give rousing speeches to rally the rebels.  She's too valuable of an asset to be in the frontline and needs to be seen alive and talking.  Katniss, of course, wants to be on the ground with the troops, to march to the Capitol to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland, "The Mechanic") herself and end the regime.

On Katniss' side are Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Complicated feelings run deep with both men for different reasons, although wisely never overshadow the main story.  Katniss' purpose in life is never defined by her love interests.

A crack in her lifelong friendship with Gale appears when they come to a head over warfare philosophy and strategy, involving the lives of civilians as a way to win the war.  Peeta is clearly not himself, still suffering from the brainwashing effects by President Snow, leading to emotional confrontations with Katniss.

Katniss eventually sneaks out from President Coin's underground bunker and makes the trek towards Capitol and President Snow's estate, accompanied by several key players.  A treacherous trek, war-torn streets marked by hidden traps, yielding machine gun shots, deadly explosives and lethal liquid, not to mention Capitol's armed peacekeepers and Mutts, ferocious underground creatures.  Lives are lost (a few in gruesome ways), including one so close to Katniss' heart.  The latter is a very quick scene that barely registers, but its impact comes out later and is distressingly felt, emotionally performed by Lawrence.

The solo "Kill Snow" plan doesn't go as planned.  Bloods spill among Capitol civilians, peacekeepers and rebels as Katniss gets closer to the estate.  There's a force working behind the scene unbeknownst to Katniss.  And casualties happen; it's the harsh reality of war.

In the end, Katniss takes a decisive stance to end a vicious cycle of conflict and violence, and ensure that people have the freedom and choice to secure their own future.

One person who is not surprised by Katniss' independent act is Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Ides of March"), the former gamemaker, conveying his hope that Katniss will find peace, something that has eluded her damaged state for so long, when justice is served.

There are times where the movie slogs along, and it feels that 'Mockingjay Part 1' and 'Mockingjay Part 2" could have been combined into a three-hour plus movie without losing much development.

The ending is mildly sweet, as a sunlit scene of a new family closes the saga for good. 'Mockingjay Part 2' is not as staggeringly scorching as the previous installments, but it is a solid, solemn conclusion to a brutal journey of an ordinary girl, a reluctant heroine who inspires and unites a nation in a dystopian time.