THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 Review: Assets and Liabilities
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is the fourth and final installment of a four-part trilogy (trilogies now come in fours when the third book is split into two films). Below is a recap of how we got here. You may skip the next three paragraphs if you are already familiar with the first three films.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a dystopian future where the rich and mighty oppress the poor and feeble, and once a year those poor and feeble must fight to the death in an annual contest called The Hunger Games. Two children are chosen to represent each of the 12 Districts (think states) of Panem, and they must fight until only one wins. Katniss not only wins the games, she outsmarts Panem President Snow (Donald Sutherland), keeping her District 12 mate – and possible love interest – Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) alive and co-champion.
In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss is an inspiration to a beleaguered nation – a symbol of hope. When she and Peeta – their romance is embellished for TV, much to the concern of Katniss’ actual man, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – embark on their Victor’s Tour, President Snow has growing concerns that the people might rebel against the government, so he announces that the 75th Hunger Games will be contested by past winners from all 12 Districts. This puts Katniss and Peeta back on the field of battle.
In installment three, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Katniss struggles with PTSD, her identity as the face of the rebellion, and the fact that the people who rescued her – including mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), former Capitol Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and president of little-known District 13 Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) – left Peeta behind to die. But Peeta didn’t die; he was captured by Snow and used as propaganda against the rebellion. Through propaganda of their own, and with Katniss as their inspiration, the rebels of all the Districts begin an uprising that will hopefully lead to the fall of the Capitol and a new era of freedom.
And it all comes down to this, the final installment, where the rebels, led by politician Coin, strategist Plutarch, and warrior Katniss, set the stage for the final confrontation with Snow in an effort to forever destroy the Capitol. But Katniss’s role in this battle is changing. Coin sees Katniss not as a fighter but as an asset. The rebel president wants Katniss to remain the Mockingjay – the face of, and inspiration for, the rebel uprising – and to do so as the centerpiece of propaganda films. Katniss has other plans … one other plan, actually. She plans to personally assassinate Snow. Political, strategic, tactical, and emotional paths cross, not everyone survives, and those who do have their lives forever changed.
With so much on the line, with everything that has happened in this franchise driving toward this conclusion, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 should crackle with high drama, explosive action, and great suspense. Instead, it waffles and stumbles and fizzles at every turn, eventually wearing down the viewer to the point that watching the film becomes an exercise in wondering not just when the film will end, but when the franchise will finally be put to rest.
The film at first attempts to be a serious drama – one about everything from conflicted emotions and trust, to Panem politics and military strategy. Katniss is the only one with any feelings for Peeta, who is suffering from the aftereffects of being brainwashed by Snow. The other man in her life, Gale, watches on as he wonders what Katniss’s true feelings are for himself an/or Peeta. Coin and Plutarch strategize about the best ways to leverage their asset and execute the rebellion’s final push. The masses look to Katniss as their inspiration, something she is still not comfortable with. It’s just all so perfunctory, mostly having been done before and simply rehashed here to pad the running time. Dialogue is flat, performances are tired, and when there are occasional new bits inserted, they are dull and injected only as a means to the film’s end.
Speaking of the film’s end, the latter “half” of the picture – the action half – is not only as rousing as a 1990s-era video game, it’s perhaps more disappointing than the first half. The gauntlet that Katniss, Finnick (Sam Claflin), and others must survive to get to Snow might be bigger and louder than gauntlets past, but it certainly isn’t more creative. Massive flamethrowers and automatic weapons with seemingly endless rounds are lazy and almost laughable when compared to the more creative traps of previous films in the franchise. Again I go back to the word “perfunctory,” as if director Francis Lawrence has a list of things that need to be done to bring the train into the station and he executes the list. Nothing ever builds to anything greater; it all just happens because that’s what’s supposed to happen next.
Most frustrating are those scenes where something special can happen but doesn’t, which only continues to reflect poorly on director Lawrence, who is the film’s, and the franchise’s, biggest liability. There is a long sequence that occurs underground, in a series of sewer- and subway-like tunnels, culminating in an action set-piece, where people die. There is absolutely no tension in these scenes, and when the big action payoff comes, the filmmaking technique employed replaces true action blocking and choreography with chaos and close-ups. As a viewer, the sense of loss felt when those characters die is no more impactful than the loss felt in one of those 1990s-era video games. Director Lawrence replaces the viewer’s emotions by testing the viewer’s patience.
The conclusion is a combination of predictable and preposterous (the latter being a late-breaking twist that is so unearned, it’s an insult). Wrapping with a mawkish epilogue, this film is neither smart enough to be good drama with action, nor is it exciting enough to be good action flick with drama, nor original enough to be a fitting final entry in a film franchise.
I closed my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 with the following: “… the film feels like money-making, fan-exploiting filler. In the hands of more skilled filmmakers, a tight and tense 20-30 minute introduction in front of Part 2 could do a greater service to the franchise than this 2+ hour chore.” I was right. Instead of two films running a combined 4 hours 20 minutes (!), the two Mockingjay films could have been assembled into one epic running about three hours. In fact, I would say the same thing about the first two Hunger Games films. That pair, which combine for nearly five hours (!!), could have also been a single, three-hour epic.
Instead, Lionsgate chose a director who could manufacture needless film in an effort to take a story that could have been something for the cinematic ages and turn it into a cash-grab. A franchise should end with some sense of melancholy that it’s over, that the characters we’ve invested in have no more stories to tell. With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, that melancholy is replaced with a sense of relief that the series, and the bilking, have finally ended.