Writers: Danny Strong, Peter Craig
Director: Francis Lawrence
Out of 5: 3
From the beginning, it was known that Lionsgate was going to have an issue with adapting Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games novels for the screen: The final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, was significantly longer than the other two. Watching the Harry Potter and Twilight series solve that problem by splitting the final book in the series into two movies presented a natural solution, as well as a pile of money. The problem, perhaps unexpected, was that some stories are too long even for two films. In truth, there’s so much going on in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 that even at 137 minutes it feels overstuffed.
When last we left Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) at the end of Mockingjay – Part 1, she was inspiring open rebellion against the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) but had suffered a number of agonizing defeats. Katniss determines that her best choice is to defy the rebel leader Coyne (Julianne Moore), join the army, and invade the capital herself to kill Snow. But there are a number of traps in the capitol city, enough to make the war like the Hunger Games itself.
Mockingjay – Part 2 is much more of a straight action film than its predecessor, in which Katniss did very little of consequence. However, it also feels the need to be as conversational as Part 1, because the characters are carrying the weight of so much past drama between them. This creates an odd pace for the film: running, shooting arrows, explosions, followed by an intense, softly-spoken dialogue scene draped in night and/or shadow.
The conversations almost all go toward the odd love triangle at the center of the series, between Katniss, fellow Hunger Games survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and rebel soldier Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The dynamic between them is damaged by the fact that Gale simply isn’t much of a character. Hemsworth’s acting in the entire series of films is tough to judge, because there just isn’t a lot for him to do; Gale is a bland soldier in this film, more or less straight out of central casting. Considering how many important things this series has to say about the media, and fame, and Katniss as propaganda symbol for both Hunger Games and rebellion, devoting this much time to an ineffectual love triangle is an odd decision.
Despite the odd pace and the lukewarm love story, Mockingjay – Part 2 works well for its first two acts, simply as an action film. It’s only in Act Three that the wheels come off. The Hunger Games has always been a dark series – the premise was that children would fight each other to the death, after all – but the plot twists which fly hot and heavy at the end of this film push the darkness to grotesque, nearly absurd levels. The slaughter is taken to such a degree that the most important death in the movie, one upon which the entire series of films should turn, feels like an afterthought.
Then, after all of this, the film offers a long and weirdly limp denouement. The Hunger Games has been unique amongst blockbuster franchises for having Katniss deal honestly and openly about the emotional fallout of the decisions she makes, but not here. Here, Katniss makes some monumental decisions at the film’s climax, and the plot waves them away as casually as a softball umpire calling Ball Two. This is a film which has more false endings than the Lord of the Rings series, and each one of them seems to be saying “yeah, revolution happened, whatever.”
Jennifer Lawrence deserves significant credit for creating the most full character among the glut of recent young-adult fantasy series. Katniss is prickly, stubborn, tough to get close to, and she doesn’t give a damn if people don’t like her. That dynamic holds throughout this film, and Lawrence is fully committed to it, but the huge plot swings in the third act do not help her. Her biggest dramatic moment is as likely to inspire giggles as tears.
The last film in a franchise is a special moment: there will be no more sequels, no more product to encourage people to buy, so an enterprising artist can say some really interesting things if so inclined. Mockingjay – Part 2 would like to be that enterprising, as would Lawrence. The film would like to use Katniss’ fame in her world to say some interesting things about where our own world is headed, and Lawrence can put a sharp feminist bent on those statements. But ultimately the emotional meat of the movie gets lost amongst the massive twists in its own plot. As a whole, The Hunger Games makes for an fascinating and highly watchable fantasy series, but it does not in any way stick the landing.
Mark Young is the editor of Cinephile City. Follow him on Twitter: @mm_young