The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review

I think last time out I talked about how it was hard to not feel like mocking Mockingjay, but frankly that feels so long ago that it’s not even worth going back and checking. This series seems to engender laziness, repeating its themes over and over again in seemingly endless variations of the same thing. We’ve got our protagonist, fighting against injustice with a band of like-minded individuals. She is being played as she plays the game, like a Katniss chasing a laser pointer. Until, of course, she takes matters into her own arrow.

But that’s for the (tediously foreshadowed) conclusion. Here we’re brought in situ back into the heart of the conflict, a recovering heroine worried about her recently rescued Peeta who, it seems, has been conditioned to want to kill her. It’s not a new trope, of course, and we wait patiently for the anger caused by brainwashing to run its course. 

A ragtag band must enter the city and head out after el president, slipping by new and fanciful contraptions setup to murder all who would encroach. Like most of this worldbuilding it makes little sense the more one thinks about it, but it’s at least in keeping with what we’ve come to expect. As they pitter-patter along, holographic map in tow, they don’t so much outwit the authorities as merely move from one action setpiece  sequence to the next.

My concerns with the first film were always strategic (a bow and arrow is a range weapon), and I enjoyed the second film as it focussed more on Katniss as a character and allowed the secondary participants to do all the gnashing of teeth and majority of the murdering. In this drawn out Mockingjay finale, however, we’ve got way too much going on with little in the way of payback. Sure, there’s political infighting and a mild twist, but if Julianne Moore had a moustache in this one she’d be twirling it, just as, well, Donald Sutherland has done for much of the running time.

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So we have here a finale for a story that I think would have been tighter and more effective in one film, but refuse to begrudge fans (and studios) that clearly asked for there to be an extension of the storyline. I guess the transition from hate to love would have been even more silly in truncated form, but even with a luxuriant running time it still feels slightly hackneyed.

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Alas even big losses aren’t really felt as much as they’re talked about – the loss of semi-major characters are boxes that are ticked off, and less may have been more here. Speaking of loss, the way they cut around the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of the film’s more effective tricks, and the epistolic inclusion of his final scenes, read out by an otherwise underused Woody Harrelson proves to be an elegant solution.

Other endings are dealt with less effectively – we’re told, rather than shown, so much of what has been built up. The truly tedious love-triangle is allowed to flounder, and (spoiler?) Gale’s riding off to the sunset is dealt with as just another pointform in the letter. Real emotional energy has been spent (wasted?) on keeping up the illusion of a will they/won’t they here, and without some sort of actual, in person closure it feels as stupid as I feared from the first moment it creeps up. 

Still, once again Jennifer Lawrence takes much of the underwritten drivel and gives it her all. She’s a convincing heroine, to be sure, and even if more sulky here than normal we can at least rally behind her anger and distrust. What’s more than a bit frustrating from both a character and narrative perspective is that once things are actually finished, and the shit has hit the proverbial fan (ie., when the real questions start becoming interesting) we’re led into pastoral simplicity. I guess this is what this girl always wanted, a simple life in the country side angelically backlit, but surely some of the pretense of reaching for larger questions must be in the back of her mind, the echoes of which seem absent in the film’s final moments.

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Basically the film once again serves fans of the books and those that want the mild catharsis of the conclusion of the narrative. It’s not a good enough action film to stand on its own, not an interesting enough story to be a revelation, nor is it in any fashion a standalone piece. Mockingjay – Part 2 may give its audience what it wants, but for those of us open to its charms but disappointed at its execution we’re left with a “this is it?” feeling. The bar’s not set so high here and even if the film doesn’t manage to leap over it,it’s at least banging its head fitfully while attempting to do so.

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