Piling on the darkness of its predecessors and doubling down on grim depictions of war, The Hunger Games quadrilogy draws to a thudding close in the fitfully entertaining Mockingjay Part 2. After basically an entire movie of build up in Mockingjay Part 1, it was critical that Part 2 deliver the goods and go big (a la Harry Potter’s Deathly Hallows Part 2). Instead the movie narrows its focus even more, resulting in an oddly paced and claustrophobic movie that only occasionally finds its footing.
Jennifer Lawrence again brings an understated intensity (that occasionally boils over) to the role of Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant Hunger Games victor turned wartime figurehead. Dubbed “The Mockingjay” and deemed too important for the front lines of battle, rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) continues to manipulate Katniss in her crusade to overthrown the established bourgeoisie in the Capitol.
Following some important but morally questionable victories, the rebels of District 13 find themselves in Part 2 ready to advance on the Capitol and end President Snow’s ruthless reign once and for all. Amongst a slew of complex interpersonal relationships, rivalries and hatreds, the movie manages to introduce further conflict by conflating the rebel’s tactics with those of Snow himself, going as far to show Snow (Donald Sutherland) as an ailing old man in a crumbling position in contrast to an increasingly ruthless Coin.
It’s heady stuff to be sure, and The Hunger Games series still has much to say about cyclical violence and its traumatic after effects. But the decision to split the final book into two parts seems like a bad decision, killing momentum in the crucial final chapter just as the story should be building towards a stunning finale.
Instead we get Katniss and the other two members of her love triangle – gentle baker Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and noble hunter Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – trudging along with an elite outfit of warriors miles behind the front lines of the war, filming staged “propos” (propaganda videos) to rally the rebels. It’s all a bit meta as we in the audience, much like the bloodthirsty crowds who’ve watched tributes from the districts compete for years in the annual Hunger Games, bay for the blood of the combatants. The Roman allusions are clear and what we see in this film is the fall of an empire as the Capitol – Panem’s version of an opulent and debauched Rome – burns in righteous flames.
Or at least we’re told it does. Much of the main action takes place off screen as we follow Katniss’ merry band of warriors as she goes AWOL from Coin’s clutches in an attempt to assassinate Snow. Their journey through deserted streets of the urban Capitol is fraught with numerous “pods”, clever traps laid by the game makers and Snow’s last defence against an encroaching army. In essence it’s another Hunger Games, though with fewer combatants than before and in a deserted city, making this huge franchise feel strangely unpopulated and cheap.
The setup leads to a few good action sequences, most notably in a cramped sewer showdown against genetically engineered “mutts” that proves The Hunger Games can do horror when it wants. Cribbing from both Aliens and The Descent, that scene is a high point that the movie can’t otherwise match, and after that it begins to lose its way towards a disappointing finale.
There were a few rules that The Hunger Games had heretofore established: war is hell, no character is safe and ultimate power corrupts. Without spoiling too much, it’s odd that so few main characters die during the final assault and that the movie ends as it does. It had a chance to go truly dark and dire (and indeed does during a particularly heinous act of war), but seems to pull back on that steely resolve and instead offers a more protracted, complacent ending. It rivals Lord of The Rings: Return of The King for its laughable number of false denouements, though Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t have the benefit of LOTR’s epic battles and lovable hobbits (though the diminutive Peeta might qualify).
The worst part is that Mockingjay Part 2 isn’t a bad movie (though it can’t compare to earlier entries), just a misfire that can’t tie all the threads together. Previously important characters like Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) all appear but don’t feel like an organic part of the story. Plutarch Heavensbee’s role had to be cut short due to the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but that doesn’t explain the lack of screentime for President Snow, especially as Sutherland continues to be a truly menacing (and at times almost sympathetic) villain for the ages.
It’s all weirdly disjointed and only occasionally springs to life, usually as the action heats up or when Katniss is actually given urgent agency and forced to make a critical decision. Were it either more action focused or better able to pull off some of the bigger emotional moments (some of the audience laughed derisively during characters’ declarations of love) then Mockingjay Part 2 could’ve soared instead of falling back to earth.
Yet the movie is beholden to the novel it’s based on and can’t transcend its shortcomings, allowing a thrilling series to peter out instead of exploding in spectacular fashion. Mockingjay Part 2 proves to be an odd and only occasionally satisfying end for Katniss Everdeen; the complex, heroic, engrossing Girl on Fire deserved more.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
Directed by Francis Laurence
Runtime: 137 minutes