Last year around this time, I wrote a piece for Flickering Myth about being underwhelmed by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, hypothesizing that many of its problems could be attributed to the Hollywood machine demanding the final novel be split up into two films. Not out of a legitimate concern for quality, but rather to squeeze more surefire money out of a franchise on its way out, which would also subsequently give Lionsgate a little more time to figure out what their next moneymaker would be. Simply put, Mockingjay – Part 1 was often boring (it felt like half the movie was spent watching Katniss stumble around collateral damage and collapsed buildings in shock) and didn’t advance much of the narrative outside of uniting the districts, and ending on a high note cliffhanger where Peeta was seemingly under mind control, conditioned to lash out emotionally and physically at Katniss.
Revisiting that educated theory after having now seen The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, and well, I still stand by that assessment. Somewhere within both of these two-hour films lies a spectacle free from exposition and lulls in forward motion that would have quite frankly made for one of the greatest blockbusters of the decade. As it stands, much of Mockingjay – Part 2 is more of the same before coming to an ending that is somehow both climactic and anti-climactic.
The journey there is riddled with breaks in the action for characters to rest up before advancing further onto the Capitol, where much dialogue is exchanged that no one feels to benefit from. The love triangle that was once interesting (one of my favorite aspects of the franchise was Katniss and Peeta staging a romance that may or may not have been real all for the sake of progressing the revolution as symbols of hope) falls surprisingly flat here as it disappointingly reverts and flounders into cliché young adult material. Not to mention, it also feels forced and awkwardly there just to appease teenagers, when the attempted assassination of a heartless dystopian future dictator should be priority one. It’s unfortunate to say, but I couldn’t give one shit as to who Katniss ended up choosing, especially when the rest of the tone is very grim, featuring numerous casualties of both key characters and civilians.
What does work is the franchise’s ability to once again create an entry that feels wildly different in structure from its previous films. The Hunger Games was pretty much all about the titular games, while the sequel Catching Fire delved much deeper into the political side of Panem (even though it did reuse the actual games), whereas Mockingjay as a singular entity is about unification and all-out assault with greater themes of war at play. So with that said, the idea of President Snow effectively booby trapping all of the Capitol to make sure the rebels, and more specifically the Mockingjay herself, meet their demise before reaching the front door is a uniquely awesome way too keep the spirit of the franchise intact.
This also paves the way for some intense and clever action sequences, but one encounter in particular with seemingly undead creatures in an underground tunnel made me confused as to what movie I was watching. Basically, not every idea is a winner, although it doesn’t really take away from how entertaining many of these set-pieces end up being. As randomly unexpected as that aforementioned underground scene was, I can’t deny I liked it for multiple reasons. There is legitimate danger in each and every unfriendly encounter, no matter how crucial to the story any character may be. Without saying if she dies or doesn’t, I legitimately had no idea if Katniss would even survive some moments towards the end, which is a testament to how well executed some of these battles are.
For as exciting as the final act is though, it also feels clumsily handled and weirdly paced. Without even mentioning the epilogue that lasts an eternity, much of the final push feels like it jumps from scene to scene even when twists and major death are flying at the screen. It’s kind of a bummer that some of what you end up seeing is pretty predictable, but on the other hand I admire the franchise for sticking with an ending that is both subversive and bittersweet. To be honest, I expected the happily ever after ending, but instead surprisingly and pleasantly got something that muddled the lines.
It is also worth mentioning that the acting is all over the place in terms of quality. Jennifer Lawrence is obviously fantastic but sometimes gets a little too over-dramatic in certain moments, while Liam Hemsworth is rather monotone and dull. Meanwhile, Josh Hutcherson is able to properly convey Peeta’s conflicted emotions and worrisome mentality of slipping back into uncontrollable rage. Naturally, veteran actors like Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (this is also his final role filmed preceding his tragic death) all once again give worthy performances.
As it stands, it’s really hard to pass off Mockingjay – Part 2 as a great or even good film, because too much of the first half is once again filler. Somewhere out there however, a talented fan-editor will undertake the task of combining the most important bits of both films into one three-hour epic that can stand alone as the grandstanding conclusion this franchise deserved. Disappointments aside, The Hunger Games is a franchise that will be sorely missed. Apart from the final film split, the adaptations were handled with care and a great understanding of what made the novels work, which is something that cannot be said for pretty much every other young adult series trying to cash in on its famed success.