'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2'
Through a haze of shadowy and barely visible cinematography, ‘The Hungers Games’ saga has finally reached its predictably cheerless end. The YA series which hinged on televised child murder is one of the darkest cinematic franchises ever foisted on young audiences, and brought some welcome social consciousness to the party. There’s plenty to admire in these movies. At least they strove to do something interesting with $100 million teensploitation filmmaking. However, it’s hard to truly enjoy the final films in the series.
Any semblance of satire or levity left long ago. ‘The Hunger Games’ is now a string of frowning close-ups punctuated by depressing action scenes. This final film is even structured as a 137-minute climax after burning through all the setup from Suzanne Collins’ final book in the prior movie. However, somehow watching all the threads being tied up is completely devoid of joy. It’s still a well-made movie, even a good one. Too bad the filmmakers didn’t seem to want viewers to have any fun.
Picking up moments after ‘Mockingjay, Part 1’ left off, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss has all new reasons for despair. Her kind-of boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) was brainwashed by the evil society leaders to the point of frothing rage. The leader of the resistance (Julianne Moore) with whom she gladly aligned her bow and arrow has proven to be just as coldly manipulative as the bad guys. Katniss wants to fight, but her people would prefer that she simply pose in photos and spout off recorded speeches to draw attention to the cause.
With the eve of a final battle for the land near, Katniss and her love triangle (Hutcherson and Liam “Not Chris” Hemsworth) and the rest of the young supporting players are shipped off to the front lines. They’re supposed to stay on the edges of combat to shoot propaganda videos, but Katniss has other ideas. She wants to personally assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end this tale once and for all. Let the happy times begin!
The brooding-to-action ratio in ‘Mockingjay, Part 2’ continues to fall on the wrong side of entertaining. Sure, this is a dystopian vision and a climatic tale filled with difficult moral choices, but good lord is it ever dour and contemplative. It’s tough to take one of the most naturally charismatic and exciting movie stars on the planet (Jennifer Lawrence, naturally) and turn her into a brooding bore, but director Francis Lawrence and his team have done it. That’s not to say that Lawrence is bad in the film by any means. She’s still a strong performer, just stuck with a role that requires her to stare off-screen thinking sad thoughts for the bulk of the running time. The same is true of the middle-aged all-star cast of supporting players including Moore, Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and a posthumous Philip Seymour Hoffman. Once, these actors provided color and levity to ‘The Hunger Games’ movies. This time, they’re limited to sitting along the sidelines waiting for Katniss to take action.
Part of the problem is that there simply wasn’t enough material in the final book in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy to sustain two movies. The novel was split apart out of greedy blockbuster convention, not because it had too much story to tell. This could have been a rousing (if damn dark) 2.5-hour finale. Instead, it’s a 4-hour marathon packed with as many pregnant pauses as possible to fill out the running time.
Granted, the second half has many more action beats than the first, which helps. Even though they’re shot through muddy and dark cinematography more irritating than evocative, a handful of scenes such as a deadly oil spill, a chase with underground monsters (a la ‘The Descent’) and a climactic tragedy bring the film to life and serve up plenty of expensive spectacle.
While the love triangle wraps up in a manner as ho-hum as the setup, the final moral tests Katniss faces in bringing an end to the totalitarian world that dominated her existence are rather clever and unpredictable. The move from Reality TV satire or pointed politicking may have been a bit jarring over the last two over-stretched movies, but at least the finale to Collins’ tale has ambition and even a few ideas that weren’t lifted from ‘Battle Royale’.
That’s the thing about the ‘Hunger Games’ movies – they can’t be dismissed as mindless or disposable crap. This has been one of the smartest and most ambitious YA series to get the blockbuster treatment. It’s just a shame that with every chapter the fun seemed to disappear. There’s nothing wrong with pop entertainment being dark, but it’s a bummer that the people behind this one forgot about the entertainment part of the equation. By the time this film reaches its endless collection of endings, there’s as much a sense of relief in the air as any sense of satisfaction or closure.
The ‘Hunger Games’ franchise was undeniably interesting and deserving of success, but it’s hard to imagine that people will rewatch these movies as repeatedly and devotedly as, say, the ‘Harry Potter’ series as time goes on. It’s an intriguing youth franchise for troubled times, but not exactly one destined for nostalgic weekend marathons. That would be like snacking on broccoli. Sure, it can be done, but it’s not very fun.