There’s been a popular trend in film adaptations of novels to break the last one up into two films. On the rare occasion it is done because the last book is so jam-packed that the filmmakers cannot really afford to take anything out without making a 5 hour film, which is not marketable, even to die-hard fans. Most times, though, it is a cynical money grab by the studio to maximize their profits, get an extra box office generated off the material they own the right to, and the films are unnecessarily elongated to make two feature films. Such is the case with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the conclusion to the Hunger Games Trilogy.
The film picks up where Part 1 left off, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) having been attacked by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been brainwashed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) when he was a hostage in the Capitol. Sick of film war propaganda pieces for the rebellion’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman, you deserved a better final send-off), Katniss convinces them to let her go and rally people at the frontlines. With Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and others in tow, she heads to District 2 to try and unite all of the districts to finally point their fight toward District 1, the Capitol, and President Snow. When the battle finally shifts to the Capitol, they must go street by street to disarm traps, essentially creating a new Hunger Games out of the war for Panem. Katniss is determined to kill Snow, while wrestling with her feelings for Peeta and Gale, and struggling with what is being done with her as the symbol, and the cost of what it takes for her to get close enough to Snow to put an arrow through his heart.
Having read all three books, the third was far and away my least favorite and I found it to be a generally unsatisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Because of this, I was not looking forward to the third film, and was very disappointed with the news they were breaking the last book up into two films, thus giving me two films I was not looking forward to. Having seen both of them, I believe that Part 2 is marginally better than Part 1, if only because it tells a more completed story, but the problem is that story is not especially good. It’s a film hampered and limited by its source material.
The film, like the “Star Squad” that Katniss is part of, gets bogged making its way through the city (Is it a coincidence in a series where the character names have significance that the leader of the group is named Bogg?) Things pick up when they are in action trying to safely set off and dismantle traps, but in between there’s a lot of sitting around and uninteresting group dynamics and conversations.
At the center of it all is the romantic triangle that is Peeta-Katniss-Gale. Much the problem in the books, Katniss jumps back in forth between kissing each of them, which is intended to make her unsure of her feelings, but just came across as fickle more often than not, especially in the books. Frankly, I’ve never thought there was a whole lot of chemistry between Lawrence and Hutcherson, and so the “cruel twist of fate” of having Peeta be conditioned to hate her did not especially tug at my heartstrings or strike me as especially tragic. I was never really invested in them in the books either, so almost the entire love triangle left me indifferent, knowing where things would end up.
What was a nice little piece from the book of Peeta asking her and others in the group if his memories are real or fake, mostly translates well here and sets up where Katniss and Peeta end up. But one answer where she goes into much greater detail than he initially asked for just feels a bit too much and more than a little sappy (she knows how he likes his tea). Whether those character traits and anecdotes have been shown in previous part of the films, I frankly cannot recall, and was not interested in going back and checking. Another problem is that too often Katniss comes across as a blank face. In the third book she is clearly traumatized by all she has been through and is struggling with her feelings for Peeta and Gale. A lot of that struggle is internal, and therefore doesn’t translate well on-screen.
Sadly, a lot of characters are given significantly short shrift by the film. It’s a shame, but in a way a necessity, as the story, similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, becomes more intensely focused on the main character. Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks get a few moments at the beginning and end, but like most everyone else are largely absent for the majority of the film. Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright barely show up as well.
There are things that the film does well. A sequence underground in the sewers of the Capitol involving a fight against “Mutts” is well choreographed and does instill a bit if fear and menace. There is also a significant personal toll and loss of life that occurs in order for Katniss to get a chance to do what she believes is her destiny/fate in killing Snow. Peeta’s journey back to sanity has some interesting elements. And the ending, which was on the whole unsatisfying, manipulative, and derivative, and muddled, is at least faithful to the book.
A lot of the problems with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 are directly from the source material. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion to a book and film series that started off with a lot of potential, but progressed and grew into something almost unmanageable. Some of the problems are self-inflicted though, by director Francis Lawrence and his crew. Most of the film is completely drab and muted in color tone. And breaking the story into two parts does it no favors either. If there had been a better ending from the source material and the studio had resisted their greedy impulse to tell the story over two films, there might have been a more satisfactory film to be had. As it is, though, it feels drawn out and tired by the time the franchise has come to an end. There was an exhilaration to the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Harry Potter franchise that is definitely lacking here. I did not leave Mockingjay -Part 2 hoping for more stories from Panem. Unfortunately, there is no need to revisit this dystopia.
Rating 2 out of 5 stars