Evan Ross, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Sam Claflin in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'
Image: Lionsgate

Evan Ross, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Sam Claflin in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

2015 has been a bit of a banner year for films about women in violent situations. Whatever your thoughts on action movie tropes are, the fact that we have tropes at all indicates that historically women in action movies don’t get a lot of nuance.

This year, genre conventions have been subtly but effectively challenged by films like Mad Max: Fury Road (check out this fantastic piece by a friend of mine dissecting Furiosa and Co.’s femininity vs. Supergirl’s), Sicario (our review highlights how the film handles women’s disempowerment in war zones), and Ex Machina (the parallel is less stark given that the lead is a female robot, but the film produced a lot of controversy over its proposal that women have to violently remove themselves from objectification).

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part Two joins the lineup in an unexpectedly satisfying way. It conveys the horribly significant consequences of war on individual and social levels in a genre notorious for its heavy-handed disregard for collateral damage. It’s a movie about the effects of war, not war itself, and in particular the effects of war on a young woman.

The first shot of the film shows Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) having a neck brace removed and struggling to speak after being attacked by her former lover, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), at the end of Mockingjay - Part One. This shot establishes how director Francis Lawrence approaches all of the violence in the film: frankly, humanly, without spectacle or exploitation.

Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'
Image: Lionsgate

Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

As Katniss recovers, the Districts’ rebellion against the Capitol is in full swing. They’ve taken ground all the way into District 2, the last stronghold of support for the Capitol. President Coin (Julianne Moore) orders a final assault against the District and sends Katniss, the symbol of the rebellion as the Mockingjay, to be the face of the rebels when the District surrenders. On the front lines Katniss confronts her childhood friend and sometime love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) when he suggest a brutal bombing strategy that would ensure a victory with massive casualties. He protests, saying she more than anyone should understand, “War’s not personal.” “More than anyone I know that it’s always personal,” she counters.

After being wounded in a firefight, Katniss returns to District 13 under strict orders not to leave again. But Katniss is convinced that the final assault on the Capitol will fail as long as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is alive to rally his troops. She sneaks out of District 13 back to the front lines intending to abandon the squadron Coin condones her to join and take down Snow alone. But as the squad moves slowly through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol, loss after loss weakens Katniss’ resolve to abandon her team for her vendetta.

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The story takes a while to get moving; it doesn’t even feel much like an action film until the second act. But the pace, like every element in the film, supports director Francis Lawrence’s goal of revealing violence through its consequences. The first act is almost exclusively about Katniss’ pain, weakness, and fear. She’s shown physically hurt, emotionally traumatized, morally conflicted, and personally lost. She doesn’t know who she is in a world that has only used her and hurt her. Her last scrap of identity resides in a violent act: killing Snow.

Josh Hutcherson in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'
Image: Lionsgate

Josh Hutcherson in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

It’d be easy to glorify this goal, to turn it into a righteous mission that excuses all the collateral damage it’ll entail. But never once is the violence in this film shown as anything other than awful and destructive. Lawrence’s technique is deceptively simple and it caught me completely off-guard. He avoids typical action movie trimmings: sweeping shots, dramatic explosions, powerful music. Instead Lawrence makes stunning use of conservative shots, minimal special effects for the gunfights and explosions, and most subtly, silence.

Music and sound effects are notably absent in key dramatic moments in the movie, removing a glamorizing element that’s easy to overlook in action films. At points during the long trek through the Capitol it watches like a horror film, the silence building dread as we wait for the inevitable attacks.

And during those attacks the shots and editing carefully limit the use of special effects to make them really count when they need to. The cinematography doesn’t elaborate on the destruction in the Capitol - somehow it’s more potent to catch glimpses of the city in ruins that just exists as the film’s reality instead of going out of our way to emphasize, “War was here.”

The effects of war leave scars all over Katniss, physically and mentally. For three films we’ve watched her push back against the effects of war turning her from being a caretaker into a killer. There are women on both sides of that divide, role models who don’t all help Katniss resolve her identity crisis. Without revealing spoilers, what I can conclude about Mockingjay - Part Two is that it simply and subtly navigates this theme without detracting from its place as a powerful conclusion to the franchise.

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Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'
Image: Lionsgate

Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

Narratively The Hunger Games series may not stand the test of time. We had some contributors get together before Mockingjay’s premiere to speculate on the stamp it’ll leave (it’s spoiler-ific, so beware). The film adaptations have played double-dutch with the line between vapid YA thrill and meaningful social commentary. A part of that frustration lies in the many great questions the movies leave mostly unanswered.

But I think those questions house a big part of the films’ appeal. If we walk away from The Hunger Games wondering about things like media integrity, social responsibility, wartime ethics, and gender politics, I think we walk away better for the experience.

Caveat Spectator

Despite the de-glamorized violence, this is still a pretty thematically violent movie. There are a few firefights, several explosions, and near-constant mortal danger for the second and third acts. Characters are shown shot, bleeding, burning, and beaten. Two characters reference time they spent imprisoned and being tortured. One battles hallucinations and paranoia for most of the film. There are several individually shown deaths: one character steps on a mine, one is skewered and hung, one is shot with an arrow, two are killed by zombie-like mutts (which are shown clearly and are pretty scary), and the most awful is a young character killed by a bomb. At the end of the film a whole group of young children are killed by bombs. Though we never see bodies, in keeping with Lawrence’s consequences-focused approach, the most heart-rending shot is of a small girl crying over her just-killed mother. It’s that kind of emotional heaviness that pervades the movie. It’s a tough PG-13. However, as a fan who’s also read the books, I think the book Mockingjay might be a good first step for young fans who want to see the movie but might need some emotional prep before going in.

Jessica Gibson is a former intern with Christianity Today Movies and a student at The King’s College in New York City. She tweets only to fangirl and gripe @GibbyTOD.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(8 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.)
Directed By
Francis Lawrence
Run Time
2 hours 17 minutes
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Theatre Release
November 20, 2015 by Lionsgate
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