The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
Christian Movie Review
I came into the Hunger Games series without reading the books, so every movie, and every twist and turn within each movie, has been completely new for me. I still have not read the books, so I had no clue how Mockingjay – Part II would end. As the movie got going, I will admit: I was rolling my eyes a lot. It all felt so predictable. It felt like I had seen the same plot in a thousand other movies.
But Mockingjay – Part II surprised me.
I won’t give any spoilers in case you’re going to see the movie and, like me, have not read the books and have no clue how things develop, but I will say this: Mockingjay – Part II makes a very interesting point about humanity’s inability to A) handle power, and B) forgive a bitter enemy.
Mockingjay – Part II provides a commentary on both subjects, but before we get into all of that, and also how the movie fared as pure entertainment, let’s cover the Parental Guidance Content.
[Note: after you read my review for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II” below, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of logic, literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
Parental Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG-13 rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: No sex scenes or nudity. A man gets into bed with his wife and embraces her.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: Plenty of violence is the reason for the film’s PG-13 rating. Although none of it is gory, we do see plenty of people get shot, blown up, torn to death after getting caught in a trap, die from poison, killed with arrows through the heart, and mauled by a pack of alien-like creatures (who are very frightening and who remind me of the zombies in the film “I Am Legend.”) In one particularly disturbing scene, multiple bombs blow up a large group of innocent children and their parents. Afterward, people carry the dead bodies of the children (which we see form a distance) as they grieve. It is a profoundly saddening scene in a film that is quite grim as a whole.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
In Mockingjay – Part II, the Hunger Games series doesn’t lose any of its compelling storytelling power. It’s just as attention-grabbing and absorbing from start to finish as the other films. This one, however, like all films that end an epic series, has the unique benefit of actually concluding the story in a satisfying way. Does Part II succeed in doing this? Absolutely. It’s a very satisfying ending executed with good taste and masterful subtlety.
It succeeds so well because the writing is extremely calculating — as calculating and icily pragmatic as Snow himself. The film uses every little detail to build certain expectations that explode in a stunning conclusion. Of course, if you’ve read the books, you won’t be surprised by anything, but if you don’t know what’s coming, the film is a wild ride.
No film is perfect, however, and I felt that the film suffered from what I call the Frodo Effect. Let me explain that term: in the epic “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy, the grimness and non-stop emotional intensity of the story meant that Elijah Wood’s character — Frodo Baggins — had to have this petrified look of terror, agony, and grief on his face at all times. There was rarely a moment of levity or some other emotion to counter the “terrible weight” of what the hero felt.
There were even fewer moments of warm-hearted levity in “Mockingjay — Part II.” Every film, even very bleak ones, becomes more human and filled with plausible personality when it balances the seriousness with a few moments of spontaneous mirth, even if it’s only an understated joke or a little island of happiness amidst the misery.
But Katniss Everdeen in this film has a look of perpetual sorrow and humorless seriousness in the way they write her and the way they direct her character. It was just so non-stop intense that it was exhausting at times. To be clear, Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant in her performance. (She always is.) And, of course, the intensity of emotions was perfectly justified, given the story, but that constant stream of heaviness, combined with Part II’s weighty grimness, felt at times like a giant emotional hammer just sort of clobbering you for two hours.
So that part of the film got tiring after awhile, but the ending — oh wow the ending — is so good that all the emotional hammering is worth it.
And, oddly enough, the funniest moments in this film happened with Snow. I would say, in fact, that Donald Sutherland is the anchor of this film — in a villainous way, of course. But without his exquisite, strangely disarming portrayal of evil-with-a-smile-and-a-pleasant-tone-of-voice — the kind of understated performance that just gets under your skin — we never would have cared so much about Katniss Everdeen’s mission.
Themes in the Subtext, and Answering the Question: “Does the Film Have a Message?”
Part II makes some poignant statements about power. Although there are many layers to the film and a kaleidoscope of themes/messages from which you could pluck out, this is the one that stuck out to me the most: humanity cannot be trusted with power.
I’m going to commit a party foul and step on a soapbox for a moment in the middle of a movie review. The film’s theme that humanity can’t be trusted with power really struck a nerve in me. During the entire drive home, I kept thinking about the movie, and then thinking about us — our culture.
It seems that American culture is beginning to forget the danger of letting power concentrate too much in one spot, especially in its politics. It has become a vitriolic Our Side Against Your Side blood sport for who has political power and who doesn’t in our country — sort of a ruthless, there-are-no-rules-anymore survival of the fittest. For many activists, politicians, and even journalists (who have become political advocates more than reporters), their end goal — gain power — justifies almost any means. It
seems like our country is forgetting that the Founders, however flawed they might have been, knew so well how poisoning power is to the human psyche. And so they did everything in their power to separate and distribute government into three branches that could check one another and protect all of us from an extremely dangerous threat: the human heart’s insatiable lust for power.
But between the dilution of these checks and balances in the US and the increasing dominance of special interests in Washington that have come to control much of what happens, America seems to be sliding toward a very dangerous precipice.
“Mockingjay – Part II” masterfully depicts that precipice (in a symbolic way) and the seduction of power and the fatal attraction that human nature has to it.
It is sobering.
It provokes self-examination and reflection on our culture.
In Katniss Everdeen we have a hero who truly doesn’t care about her own welfare, for the most part. She cares more about the welfare of others — of society at large — than her own interests, and she makes her decisions accordingly. But pretty much all of our politicians in Washington appear to be a million miles from the Katniss Everdeen mindset. Perhaps it’s a reflection of our increasingly self-centered, narcissist culture. Maybe it’s the voters — all of us — who are really to blame.
All of this is a cynical, slightly depressed viewpoint — I will admit that — but “Mockingjay – Part II” presents a similar tone — a tone of distrust toward human nature. However, it also beautifully portrays the liberty that comes when people lay aside their obsessive self-interests and seek the good of others first. The film, beneath all the grey misery, clings to a stubborn hope that there are people (how few they might be) who make selfless decisions, even if that means relinquishing their own power that can be oh so seductive.
Conclusion: A Heavy, Grim Film, Yes, But a Very Powerful One That Will Stay With You
When it comes out on DVD and streaming services, I don’t know that I’ll ever just flick on “Mockingjay – Part II” for fun and pass a breezy Saturday afternoon away with it. It’s an emotionally grueling story in many ways. Why? Because it not only tells its story well, but it captures human nature well, which means it hits home. It makes you think about our world and it makes you examine yourself for some of the fundamental flaws that the film examines.
That being said, the film does bring a remarkably satisfying sense of completion to the Hunger Games saga, and along the way it raises some profound questions about humanity’s relationship with power.
My prayer is that we get more Katniss Everdeens in the power centers of American culture and fewer people who would do anything to get power (and do anything to hold onto it).
My rating for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II”: [usr 8] (See my notes below on the rating scale.)
[NOTE: If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or U2, please be sure to read our editor Kevin’s new blog Stabs of Joy, which explores 18 C.S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums to answer one question: how do we really experience Christ’s joy — and not just talk about it — during seasons of sorrow and difficulty?]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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