The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD) brings an end to the first and most successful big screen adaptation of a young adult dystopian thriller of an oppressive, brutal future. Divergent and The Maze Runner followed with less success, both commercially and dramatically, and for that matter the Hunger Games movies kind of wind down as it gets to the end. But it’s an interesting franchise.
The first film features the strongest story of the series, the second film is elevated by superior direction from Francis Lawrence (who took over the franchise from director Gary Ross), and the third and fourth chapters split an already slim novel into two parts, extending the story with a primer on the ways of propaganda and media manipulation and extended action sequences as the battle is taken out of the arena and to the doorstep of totalitarian “President” Snow (Donald Sutherland), a despot uses terror to oppress the citizens who sustain the decadence of the Capitol. Like the books, the films are informed by a justified distrust in leaders and demagogues and a wariness of media, which is used by both sides as a tool for propaganda. If the teenage fans of the film learn nothing more than to question the images presented by the media they consume every day, then they have justified their existence.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 opens with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) healing from an attack by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who she saved in the first Hunger Games and was subsequently captured and brainwashed (with brutal techniques, we discover) by Snow. She carries the guilt of his torture with the rest of her burdens. It’s not exaggeration to say that Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to the director) has centered and sustained the ever-sprawling saga as Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant rebel who became a revolutionary Joan of Arc, an inspirational figure that rouses the oppressed peoples to rise up against injustice. She’s a battle-scarred survivor, an authentic hero, and a teenage girl shouldering a responsibility she never wanted but can’t decline, and Lawrence captures all of those dimensions and more in her performance.
Extending the final book across two films is a commercial decision rather than an artistic choice and it shows. Where Part 1 got bogged down in debate and behind-the-scenes drama, Part 2 becomes a platoon film following Katniss and her team working through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol to assassinate Snow, a sequence defined by slow progress and nervous anticipation and punctuated by sudden violence and desperate battle. Director Lawrence ably delivers the spectacle but it still plays like padding, a way to squeeze in one more arena battle in the form of more obstacles on the march to the final act.
Julianne Moore is more political than ever as President Alma Coin, leader of the rebellion and self-appointed heir apparent to Snow’s throne, and the script (by Peter Craig and Danny Strong) doesn’t hide its suspicions of her endgame. Donald Sutherland plays his lines like a master musician on a finely-tuned instrument, relishing the power games the Snow plays right to the end. Chris Hemsworth is physically present but lost in the story and Philip Seymour Hoffman died before completing his scenes for the film and his absence is glaring. Part 2 tries to give every character their respective moments so when he practically disappears even as his character is busy behind-the-scenes, it’s hard to cover. But it’s a minor issue. Ultimately The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 provides a satisfying end to the story rather than an inspiring one. It preserves the dark turn of the book’s finale, the character of Katniss, and the journey of Peeta to recover the compassion destroyed by Snow. It just takes a long way around to the stories that really matter.
Blu-ray and DVD with commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson and three featurettes. “The Hunger Games: A Photographic Journey” (10 minutes) is not a gallery but an introduction to set photographer Murray Close, who talks about his work with Stanley Kubrick as prologue before walking us through his job on the set (illustrated, of course, with his stills). “Cinna’s Sketchbook: Secrets of the Mockingjay Armor” (9 minutes) walks us through the costume sketches that were used to create the sketchbook seen in the movie. “Panem on Display: The Hunger Games: The Exhibition” is basically a two-minute promotional featurette.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray the 141-minute documentary “Pawns No More: Making The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” (which can also be accessed as eight separate featurettes) and the 42-minute “Jet to the Set: The Hunger Games,” a mix of set visit and travel program originally produced for PopTV. Both include an Ultraviolent Digital copy of the film (Digital HD on Blu-ray).
The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD) collects all four films of the franchise along with all the previously-released supplements and a bonus disc with previously-available deleted scenes and featurettes from the first three films, plus some never-before-seen supplements exclusive to this release: 12 deleted scene from The Hunger Games, 1 deleted scene from Catching Fire, and the new featurettes “Capitol Cuisine” (with the Catching Fire extras), a five-minute piece on the food styling for the decadence of the Capitol, and “Picturing Panem” (Mockingjay – Part 1), a seven-minute gallery of set photos narrated by photographer Murray Close.
The Blu-ray features six discs, the DVD features eight discs, and both include Ultraviolent Digital copies of each films (Digital HD on Blu-ray).
Classics and Cult:
A Brighter Summer Day (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) The Trip (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) Donovan’s Brain (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
TV on disc:
Turn: Washington’s Spies – The Complete Second Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) Lost Girl: The Final Chapters (Seasons 5 & 6) (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD) Freaks & Geeks: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season Special Edition (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray)