The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review

(2.5 STARS)

A final film in a series shouldn’t need this much exposition. A final film in a series shouldn’t be so light on concluding excitement. A final film in a series shouldn’t have to force feed its viewers hackeneyed closure for its characters. A final film in a series shouldn’t be so lacking in the reasons why its previous films were well-received and successful.

One of the major problems with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (besides that title) is Suzanne Collins’ source novel. It’s bad. Where the first Hunger Games book introduced us to a world, and the second set the stage for a rebellion, the third went on and on and on about Katniss’ angst before sending her off into an active war zone, which one character refers to as the 76th annual Hunger Games, in case you couldn’t already tell.

Of course, because of Hollywood, the powers that be decided Mockingjay must be split into two parts. The irony of all ironies is that director Francis Lawrence turned the worst portion of the three-book text into the series’ best film, Mockingjay – Part 1. That book’s abject awfulness allowed Lawrence to freelance, so to speak, and the film is filled with page-to-screen changes for the better in action, excitement, drama, and character building.

Mockingjay – Part 2, the film, is the worst of the series perhaps because the second half of the book wasn’t bad enough to allow Lawrence the freedom that served him so well in Part 1. It’s a mediocre, paint-by-numbers action movie that goes through a lot of predictable trouble to get to a pretty uninspired place. But worse: It teases threads of themes that are timely and interesting only to abandon them for set pieces and love triangles. Why? Because a lame book said so.

The film picks up immediately where Part 1 left off with the rescue of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) from the recently rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). During his time as a Capitol prisoner, young Mr. Mellark was brainwashed into thinking Katniss was his mortal enemy. She knows the real Peeta is still deep down inside the shell of a person who attacked her, but she’s unsafe around him for now and worries what will happen to him if he does something dangerous again.

Following a brief sojourn into District 2, where Katniss helps lead rebel troops in an attempt to disable the enemy’s offensive forces, she joins Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and others on the front lines of the Capitol, which has been rigged by gamesmakers with booby traps around every corner. Katniss wishes to break away from her squadron and make a run at assassinating President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but rebel leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) knows what the Mockingjay is capable of and adds a new member soldier to their team, one that Katniss will do anything to protect, even if it means her death: Peeta.

What the film does right occurs early on, during the aforementioned sequence in District 2. A decision needs to be made by Coin and the other rebellion leaders (including Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch, in the actor’s final on-screen performance) about what to do with residents of the District who are loyal to the Capitol. Coin takes a compassionless view to war and decides the best course of action is to bomb their enemy’s mountain fortress, trapping them inside.

As they escape, clinging to life and unable to do anything but surrender, one can’t help but think about the state of the world in late 2015 and the refugee crisis facing America and many other nations around the world. Many of these people were caught between warring factions, but others were and perhaps still are threats to Katniss and her fellow soldiers. What do you do? Are they safe? Can they be reasoned with and brought over to your side? It’s thoughtful material, and the film feels like it as all the potential in the world at this point, but your warm feelings toward Mockingjay – Part 2 quickly get brushed aside when its priorities reveal themselves.

The worst of these is the necessary resolution to the series’ romantic tensions. Katniss’ two primary suitors, Peeta and Gale, have a conversation two-thirds of the way through the film that’s so painfully on the nose that it actually detracts from Katniss’ arc and strength of character over four films. “Which one she can’t survive without” is phrase that’s uttered and referenced repeatedly, and one can’t help but wonder, “Can the leader of a national rebellion truly not survive without a man?” The answer reveals itself in due time, but the story of Mockingjay – Part 2 is Katniss’ general antipathy toward life itself. It’s discouraging to see one of cinema’s strongest female protagonists reduced to someone so depressed and depressingly one-dimensional, and even worse to see an actress as talented as Jennifer Lawrence fail to rise above the material.

The film’s action set pieces are adequate, but they fail to live up to the standard set by previous films in the series. The best extended sequence occurs underground, and recalls something out of the horror genre more than a major studio action film. Outside of that and the subtext of the District 2 scenes, however, the film is a lifeless affair. Hutcherson is OK; Hemsworth is a pod. I did enjoy some of the film’s minor characters like Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and Jackson (Michelle Forbes). It’s always a pleasure seeing Julianne Moore and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman share the screen. But all these great actors are serving a tired story with timid direction and screenwriting — and that’s not even getting into the film’s (and series’) comically terrible final scenes.

It’s a shame that The Hunger Games is going out with such a whimper, but at least we have three solid movies and a dynamite female action protagonist to remember them by until the inevitable reboot comes along in ten years. And in case any of the men and women involved in that happen to read this review, one piece of advice: You can get away with one Mockingjay movie, OK?

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3 Responses to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review

  1. Pingback: Reviews: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) – Online Film Critics Society

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