Game Over for the Mockingjay
Back in 2012, The Hunger Games was undoubtedly at the right place at the right time. After Harry Potter met his magical end the year before and The Twilight Saga was prepping for its so-called “epic finale that would live forever” a few months later, The Hunger Games swept in, enthralling the young adult audience for three installments. Now at its climax, it’s a deep relief to say goodbye to Katniss Everdeen and Panem.
Just like with last year’s film, Mockingjay – Part 2 is saddled with the unfortunate truth of being half a film. Part 1 can be simply summarized as a stretched out two-hour prelude to war. While Part 2 borrows a page from the finales of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn as the final batttle where everything from the previous films in on the line. The stakes are their pinnacle. Or are they?
Part 2 wastes no time picking up the pieces of Part 1’s cliffhanger. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is already on the mends (shedding her neck brace despite scarring) from an attack from her brainwashed boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Within moments, she finds herself back in the rebel war room, discussing strategy with President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her top advisors, including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Katniss sees herself more useful on the front lines. Deemed reckless, Coin orders her to rest and shoot more intentionally wooden-acted propoganda pieces. More of those?
Of course stubborn Katniss doesn’t listen, sneaking aboard a hovercraft to District 2 to get in the heart of the action. What’s supposed to a decisive battle on the road to the Capitol is glossed over too quickly. It’s a moment, the previous film was toying with us for an entire year, but fails to deliver at the bare minimum, a solid punch. Equally as disappointing is Gwendoline Christie’s (Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) glorified cameo during the sequence as rebel Commander Lyme. Exactly what’s the point of wasting Christie’s talents for a blink and you miss it role. Then again, didn’t Spectre give Monica Bellucci the same treatment a few weeks ago?
Much of Part 2 highlights Katniss’ mission with an elite squad en-route to the Capitol, eluding booby traps left and right. Guns blazing and black goo pouring into the streets, it’s not a cakewalk. Though visually stunning and decently choreographed, there still lingers that episodic vibe moving from point to point. Katniss and company are also tasked by babysitting Peeta, continously suffering the after effects of his brainwashing. Hutcherson handles his turns on a dime, exceptionally improving from initally taking on the role.
Ironically enough, everything from the previous Hunger Games films has built up to this climax. And yet, it’s the most plodding of the bunch. Part 1 might have been an elaborate chess match between the rebels and the Capitol, but the stakes were much greater before the ultimate showdown. It’s no fault of director Francis Lawrence, who’s back for his third outing or writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Mockingjay wasn’t exactly the fan favorite book out of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. And Lawrence is a more than capable director. Just watch Catching Fire.
Part 2 still remains the Jennifer Lawrence show, driving what little spark is left in the franchise. Lawrence knows the role in and out, evolving over the years from a selfless survivor to star-crossed lover with Hutcherson to finally a symbol for rebellion. The rest of the cast is there, just to say goodbye or be background filler. Stanley Tucci is shoehorned in for less than a minute as the flamboyant talking head Caesar Flickerman. Elizabeth Banks is equally sidelined as peppy ally, Effie Trinket. Even Donald Sutherland’s President Snow is watered down in the villainy department.
Both Mockingjay films (and particularly Part 2) ultimately stripped the wow factor from The Hunger Games franchise. Not because the films take a much more darker turn in Collins’ satire, but the finale is a much bigger chore to sit through. Once again, there’s half an adaptation over a disjointed two hours and not much actually happens. And to drag its feet even further, Part 2’s ending is the unfortunate love child of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Too jarring and too long for its own good.
Fans of the franchise should still be moderately satisfied. But for the casual viewer, the ball was dropped hard after Catching Fire, leaving just one question. What happened to this promising series?