The war-torn images of 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2' are sobering and familiar. This film, perhaps more than any of the other movies in the series, takes on the real collateral damage of war. Given current events, the final installment of the 'Hunger Games' franchise acts as a dystopian mirror on which to project our own self-destructive actions as human beings.
The third movie – 'Mockingjay - Part 1' – dove into how media can manipulate the masses in times of war. How propaganda is a strong, unifying tool for good and evil. Now the troops are unified, and the stakes are raised. The first part was the precursor to war, the second part is the war.
Little interest is held in the love triangle that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself embroiled in with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). It's probably the most uninteresting aspect of the entire story. Thankfully, the movie spends a limited amount of time focused on Katniss's waffling on which beau to pick. Instead it's laser-focused on the toll of war.
It's impossible not to see numerous parallels between current events and the events happening here. 'Part 2' accurately, and at times brutally, shows the devastating effects of urban siege warfare. We begin with the war. The rebels, led by President Coin (Julianne Moore) are gearing up to move into the Capitol for the final push on President Snow's (Donald Sutherland) troops. As they do, the Capitol civilians are caught in the middle of merciless fighting.
Huddled groups of civilians fleeing the fighting and being caught in the crossfire is something it seems we're seeing nightly on the news. The movie doesn't shy away from the enormous cost of war. Sure, Coin's campaign to overthrow the tyrant Snow seems just, but do the ends justify the means? Are we willing to sacrifice innocent people – children! – for the greater good, so to speak? Do we give into xenophobia? Do we allow ourselves to be manipulated by it, or do we rise above such prejudices? These are the questions 'Part 2' seeks to answer. Well, maybe it's better explained that these are the questions the movie asks, and it's up to us to answer them.
The philosophical and topical underpinnings of 'Part 2' are its main virtue. Yet, it doesn't sit around pontificating forever either. There are some very well thought out, well-shot action scenes that put the earlier shaky-cam-filmed 'Hunger Games' movies to shame. There's a tunnel sequence that is every bit as suspenseful as any horror movie. The timing is spot on and the action is decipherable. Two things that the first two movies struggled with.
Lawrence continues to be the highlight as far as acting goes, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that this is the last time we'll be seeing a new Philip Seymour Hoffman performance. It's a realization that isn't easy to shake while watching.
Once the end rolls around, 'Part 2' suffers a bit from end-of-the-franchise fatigue. The screenplay seems unable to let go of its characters, drawing out the end for ages. Much like 'Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,' 'Part 2' has at least half a dozen spots where it could end, but doesn't.
Those quibbles are small though, because at the end it's still hard to shake some of the imagery we've been presented with. Visual depictions of violence that are frighteningly similar to what we see on the nightly news. On the surface it might be easy to detach oneself from it because it's a fictional tale about a dystopian future. While that may be the case, there's no denying that 'Mockingjay – Part 2' hits close to home in more ways than one.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is the exclusive release from Target, which comes with three discs, instead of two. The extra disc is a bonus DVD with some more special features on it. The discs also come packaged in a snazzy Digibook-esque holder with character artwork on each of its three pages. The discs slide into cardboard slots, much in the same way the 'Star Wars' films did in 'The Complete Saga' collection. The Digibook holder is encased by a clear plastic outersleeve.
The movie is housed on a 50GB Blu-ray. The other two discs are DVDs. One for the movie, and the other for the exclusive special features. It's kind of dumb to have exclusive special features for a Blu-ray release and only have them on a DVD in standard definition though.
This 1080p presentation mirrors, in every way, the stellar visuals of 'Mockingjay – Part 1.' Clarity is superb throughout the movie. Despite the penchant of these movies to go with hard teal filters the proceedings still look great throughout.
One thing that stands out here is how it looks in dark and dimly-lit scenes. These characters spend a lot of time in the dark and so it's imperative that these scenes are crystal clear. Shadows are wonderfully delineated. Even when the characters are running around a dank, murky sewer. Crushing is never really a problem. Black areas are sufficiently dark. Take, for example, the scene where the black death oil rushes in after the characters when they're in the city. The blackness of that oil is absolute. It looks great. And it's contrasted with the alabaster buildings surrounding it. This scene provides some great examples of the presentation's contrast abilities.
Fine detail is excellent too. Faces are extremely well detailed, even in low light scenes. The CGI looks great as well. The added definition doesn't hamper the effects in the slightest. It only enhances them. I noticed maybe one instance of negligible banding around a light source, but that was it. This is another great presentation from Lionsgate.
'Mockingjay – Part 2' really shines here. The Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core) track provided is something special. There is some immersive sound design going on here. It may not be as enveloping as some of the other action-based Atmos titles, but it's nonetheless impressive.
The sound design makes use of the height channels as rebel aircraft fly overhead panning seamlessly from back to front. When the rebels bomb the Capitol's mountain base the sound is specifically contained in up and to the left with the bombs drop. We can barely see it happening on screen, as Katniss laments it, but we can hear it with pinpoint precision.
Other scenes that offer wonderful examples of Atmos' object-based sound design include the moment when the characters are locked inside the courtyard that is quickly filling with mysterious oil, and the fight in the sewers with the albino zombie creatures. As the oil pours in among the buildings its gurgling and splashing can be heard everywhere from every channel. It's quite impressive. When the team fights zombies in the sewers growling, gunshots, and explosions are going of simultaneously around you. Snarling creatures seemingly fly over your head as they launch themselves through the air.
Another aspect of this audio mix that is particularly satisfying is its use of echoes. Whether it's in the sewers or a someone speaking to a large army, the echoes are seamlessly transported through the surround channels making you feel like you're right there.
Dialogue is always clear. The soundtrack is piped through all the channels with gusto. The scene at the end when the drums are beating as Katniss walks to execute President Snow is a phenomenal example of how omnipresent this mix can really be. Not to mention it's a powerhouse moment for the LFE. For all intents and purposes this is demo material for your Atmos setup.
Audio Commentary – An audio commentary is provided by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. It's rather straight-forward. Informative yes, but not overly exciting. Lawrence and Jacobson have a good chemistry though.
Pawns No More: The Making of 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2' (HD, 2hr. 21 min.) – This is an expansive, exhaustive feature. Here we're provided with an eight-part documentary on the making-of story as it pertains to the last installment of the 'Hunger Games' franchise. They include focuses on special effects, costume design, visual design, the ensemble cast, and the trials of post-production.
Cinna's Sketchbook: Secrets of the Mockingjay Armor (HD, 9 min.) – An in-depth costume-centric featurette, mostly about the Mockingjay armor that Katniss wears in the movie.
Panem on Display: 'The Hunger Games' – The Exhibition (HD, 2 min.) – Essentially a commercial for an event featuring a bunch of 'Hunger Games' memorabilia.
'Jet to the Set' (HD, 42 min.) – The Pop TV Travel episode is included here. Hosts from the show visited the set. It's more of a gossip-mag type feature than anything of substance.
This is a fitting and exciting end to the series. Perhaps 'Part 1' and 'Part 2' could have been merged into one movie. That's always possible. However, given that this is “half a story,” it still manages to be intense and thought-provoking throughout. As far as dystopian teen dramas go the 'Hunger Games' movies are top-notch. Add to that the fact the Atmos-included mix here is amazing and the video presentation is strong too. With a bevy of special features, this release is highly recommended.