The decision to spread the final Hunger Games adaptation across two parts left Mockingjay Part 1 feeling like an unsatisfactory half-a-movie, all build-up with not a great deal actually happening. My hope was that Part 2 would pay it all off, and send this series out with a bang. It definitively does not, withering out with unquestionably the weakest entry in this series.
Mockingjay Part 2 proves that splitting the one book into two movies was, as we all already knew really, a purely financial decision. There is not enough story to warrant two movies and by creating them, both are left feeling slow, drawn-out and repetitive. The pacing here in Part 2 is the worst yet, with many long boring stretches padding out its excessive run-time.
The film begins continuing from right where Part 1 left off, though I honestly couldn’t recall what that was at first. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from being attacked by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who was brainwashed by the Capitol using mutated bee venom or something. The Rebels are going to make their final push to take over the Capitol and kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) once and for all, but leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) doesn’t want Katniss risking her life again.
Instead she winds up on a squad with a number of familiar characters from the last few movies whose job it is to wander around the evacuated Capitol and make propaganda videos. I feel that directior Francis Lawrence is going for a war movie atmosphere as they make their way through the hazardous ruins but it ends up coming across more like a video game one.
In an attempt to create another ‘Hunger Games’ type scenario, the Capitol has dispersed traps (called “pods”) all over the area that will try to kill the squad in a variety of ways if triggered. Luckily for them squad leader Boggs (Mahershala Ali) has some gizmo that detects them. These scenes go on for what feels like an age, with numerous stops for the team to rest and have dreary conversations. Making matters worse, an unpredictable, PTSD-suffering Peeta is told to join them soon after they begin, even though he might try and kill Katniss again at any moment.
This unfortunately brings one of the worst aspects of this series to the forefront yet again; the dismal love triangle between Peeta, Katniss and the mopey Gale (Liam Hemsworth) who’s also on the team. There’s even an awful scene when they discuss their jealousy and who Katniss will chose when this is all over. Hey Katniss, you don’t actually have to choose either of these bland blonde guys, something this film doesn’t seem to consider an option.
Whatever themes of propaganda and symbolism this series began exploring also becomes lost as the video game sequences plod on and on. The film fails to keep track of what’s going on beyond this core group too; we have no idea how many people remain loyal to the Capitol or how successful the Rebels are in their fight.
There is at least one good sequence to be found in within but ironically it feels like something out of a different kind of movie. After heading to the sewers to try and avoid the “pods”, the squad comes under attack from a pack of zombie-like creatures called “mutts”. Francis Lawrence shoots and edits this like a pure horror scene and it’s quite effective, beginning with a very well-timed jump scare and remaining highly intense. I’ve complained before at this series for writing violent scenes that then can’t be filmed properly if they want to gain that precious PG-13 rating but this scene somehow managed to go in the other direction. I’m quite astonished that this got passed considering how terrifying I can imagine some children finding it, even if I personally enjoyed it a lot.
That enjoyment is all too brief though, when Katniss finally reaches the Capitol, things do not go exactly as planned. I haven’t read the books so I’ll admit that I did find the events of the film’s final act a little unpredictable, but at the same time it’s all deeply anticlimactic, unsatisfactory and drawn-out. This feels to have multiple codas in a worse way than Lord of the Rings was accused of indulging in, and it saves the absolute worst for last, concluding with a schmaltzy future epilogue that feels totally out-of-place with the rest of the movie.
I’ve never shared the high praise many other have had for Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss, yet again I think she’s perfectly fine here though still nothing to write home about, she’s probably just going through the motions by this point anyhow, not helped by Katniss playing more of a passive role this time around. I hear the books are to blame for this but I also was not a fan of where she ultimately ends up being.
Ironically given how padded-out the film feels as a whole, many of it’s over-qualified older cast members are left with barely more than cameos. Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson have a couple of scenes, while Stanley Tucci and Jeffrey Wright probably appear for less than a minute each. The only ones to get anything of substance are Julianne Moore and Donanld Sutherland. This short-changing happens to Jena Malone’s Johanna too, one of Catching Fire‘s more memorable cast members. Even one of the consistently strong aspects of the series – James Newton Howard’s score now appears to be repeating older cues over uninspiring shots of people walking.
The biggest emotional reaction I had to Mockingjay Part 2 was an unintentional one. Philip Seymour Hoffman appears in the opening minutes of the film and I was suddenly reminded that he had filmed a few scenes for this before his untimely death last year. It’s striking to see him on screen one last time but again he has very little to do in this movie. It’s also fairly clear where he’s a digital copy in the later sequences when he stands by saying nothing and barely moving, and there’s one moment when Harrelson reads a letter he’s written to Katniss that I imagine was originally his own dialogue.
I suppose we’re always going to be left wondering whether if Mockingjay had just been made into the one movie it would have turned out better. Based on the evidence on display here I think we can say yes with some confidence, yet I still don’t think it would have been up to much. Well at least it’s all over now, until the inevitable prequel/reboot in ten years I suppose.