Published on January 1st, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden0
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY — PART 2 – REVIEW
After the interminable political slog The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, a movie that dragged its feet at every turn to pad its length and justify the studio’s decision to split this final chapter into two separate films, there was little reason for me to think that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 could turn this protracted series around. I love being proven wrong.
Yes, for the first time in the history of the series, I found myself wholly captivated and invested in Katniss Everdeen’s story of revenge. Still, many of the problems that have hurt the series remain, especially during the bookends of this particular installment. The majority of the early chapters of this final entry remain in the underground rebellion bases of District 13 wherein Katniss is privy to the political maneuverings and propaganda strategizing meant to aid in the defeat of the evil President Snow. These sequences pull Mockingjay – Part 2 back into the tedious plots of the first part and dull the opening, instead of sending audiences off on a new adventure. Unfortunately, the politics remain as weightless as they were before, despite the nuanced performances of veteran actors Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
There are several reasons these political sequences have never been particularly interesting, and many of them extend to my criticisms of The Hunger Games franchise as a whole. Firstly, audiences are rarely shown the lives of the average citizens of Panem and how these politics might affect them. When rebellion leader Alma Coin devises new, shocking propaganda or declares war on the Capitol, it is hard to feel the weight behind these decisions purely because audiences aren’t made to care about the people involved. Additionally, the world of Panem remains loosely sketched, with a cast of characters whose designs feel as if they all came from separate movies; one minute, the film is a gritty war drama; the next, a killer monster movie, only to turn the corner and become a melodramatic love triangle picture.
Worst, for the first third of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, Katniss continues to be forced into a passive role as a political propaganda tool who can only react to the horrors she sees around her instead of taking direct action. It is a role she’s played before and one that quickly wore out its welcome. But then something happened.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 suddenly abandons nearly all of these stagnating plotlines and gives Katniss one clearly defined goal: the assassination of President Snow. I found that this simplification reactivated her as the proactive, feminist icon she’s become, both on- and off-screen, and provided her with a clearly outlined objective for the first time in this series. This narrative choice gives the filmmakers, including returning director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong, the ability to place Katniss into deadly traps and emotional minefields that she has to overcome, with no choice but to deal with them directly. The simple change from passive protagonist to active protagonist was more than a transformation for this character; it completely revitalized the picture!
While many of these traps, including an oil flood lifted directly from The Shining, make little sense in the world of The Hunger Games, there’s a visual playfulness and mounting tension that allows the film to push past logic. Director Francis Lawrence ratchets up the tension in a particularly horrifying trek through the Capitol’s sewer system and effectively shifts the film into the horror genre, if only for a few minutes. These sequences are nothing particularly unique in terms of their content or narrative, but Lawrence’s direction and the sharp editing conjure a few thrilling moments. As Katniss’ teammates are picked off one by one, she finds herself increasingly more alone and helplessly outmatched by Snow’s forces, and the film wisely closes in on her as well, making the threats smaller and more personal as the film barrels toward its eventual climax.
Yet right as the film reaches its emotional peak, it stumbles and is never able to recover. Instead of following through on what seems to be the natural ending of the story, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 pulls a last-minute twist that sets up a moral challenge so obvious and morally simple that it completely deflates all the wonderful tension it had worked hard to establish.
Caught in this downward spiral is Jennifer Lawrence, returning as Katniss, who is yet again called upon to deliver the entire film’s emotional climax in a series of close-ups. Lawrence has proven herself capable of this task in the past but here she swings for the fences, perhaps out of boredom with the character, and completely misses. More baffling is the film’s final moments with the character, wherein Katniss’ role as an independent feminist icon is shelved for a conventional happy ending that forces her into an unlikely and unbefitting gender-specific role.