In my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, I postulated that the movie was a set up for what would “more than likely… be a killer finale.” Knowing what I knew from the novels, Part 2 of this final chapter to the Hunger Games series would follow the girl on fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), as she led her band of merry followers into the Capitol to take down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end his tyrannical reign once and for all. The set-up would have you believe we were in for an explosion of excitement, heartbreak and rousing fanfare. What we end up getting with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, though, seemed much too cold, calculated and unemotional.
I’m not quite sure what it was, but compared to the last two movies, this finale simply felt dead somehow. What should have been heartbreaking emotional moments came and went without resonance, including the death of someone very important to Katniss. This moment is not only vital to Katniss’s final decision, but it’s essential to the entire series, so when it fails to provoke the expected emotional response, I felt directer Francis Lawrence forgot what made the franchise so powerful in the first place, exchanging passion with fatigue.
As an example, when Katniss, fresh off her attack at the hands of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is asked by President Coin (Julianne Moore) to help rally both the rebels and the loyalists in District 2 against the Capitol and solidify their position against Snow, her presence there is so subdued, it feels impersonal and stale. The speech she gives is an afterthought compared to the inciting speech she delivered in Part 1 and makes it feel as if the actors are somehow sleepwalking their way through to the finish line. They know their time in Panem is almost over and have chosen to go through the motions rather than invest in their character’s plight. Even Katniss getting shot by a loyalist does nothing for the film as a whole. It’s meant to be that one moment that turns the tide and gives the rebels the confidence and fire to push on and complete their mission. And though we hear it does just that, we never truly feel the impact. The same thing happens when she’s suspected of being killed later on in the movie. The idea that her death provides advantages in the war never lasts long and feels disengaged.
Unlike the other three films, almost everything Katniss does here feels false. There’s one scene at the end (one of many, which like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, just seem to keep coming with no stop to them) that falls in line perfectly with who Katniss is and the motivations behind her actions, but her continuous drive to kill Snow and her need to be out there fighting to get to him aren’t developed nearly enough to justify what she does. To better explain the film’s inability to live up to its own hype, when the rebels realize Katniss is alive by her arrival at the rebel camp outside the Capitol, the moment should have been a rousing, tearful, joyous moment. But in the way it’s filmed, Lawrence fails to stir the emotions enough to give it the strength of jubilant victory.
But it’s not just Katniss that falls into this lack of energy and artificial emotion. In an effort to bolster their propaganda efforts, Coin sends Peeta to join the group to prove to the Capitol they were able to recondition him to their side. I was excited to see this part of the film because the progression to finding himself again in the book was excellently defined. Here, it seems to be watered-down, mostly because Hutcherson can’t quite seem to capture the intensity needed to feel as if he’s battling two sides of the same coin. All I really ever saw was Peeta pretending to be angry, not Snow’s lapdog trying to find his way back to being the kind, loving, compassionate man he truly wants to be. There were a couple of strong moments, but they’re rather fleeting.
Time is another issue that gets tangled up here, as we’re never really sure how much time it takes for things to happen. In the very first scene of the film, Katniss’s throat is heavily bruised and she can hardly talk. In the next scene, when she’s on her way to District 2, she’s basically fully healed. How much time passes between the final infiltration on Snow’s mansion to the final sequences in the film is only evidenced by Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) going from bald to a fancy new hairstyle. All of these jumps make the film choppy and a little incoherent.
I also believe the side characters, such as Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Prim (Willow Shields) weren’t allowed to breathe in the way they needed to add extra juice to the climax of the film. I would argue the same for Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but Hoffman’s untimely death may have had something to do with that. The only character that’s developed enough to truly connect with Katniss is Snow, leading to a finale moment that works on every level. The two of them are simply magic together.
The other aspect Lawrence got right was in the infiltration of the Capitol. All of the traps laid out for the rebels across the city are all well executed, especially the ocean of oil sequence. In fact, this one isolated scene is what I was hoping the rest of the film would be. It encapsulates the expectations by giving the characters the right level of emotion, effectively developing the world, hinting back at the lunacy of the traps in the Hunger Games, and delivering on what Peeta is supposed to be throughout the film, making the sequences that don’t work as well that much harder to swallow. Much like some of the issues in the previous chapter, a lot of what we’re given (such as the excesses of the Capitol, the Mutts and the Evos) were never set up correctly to deliver the right amount of punch for this last chapter to be effective. Because they weren’t set-up properly, when the mutts do arrive, they seem wholly out of place as part of this world.
I really liked Part 1 of Mockingjay, but even though the halves were filmed in succession, it seems the filmmakers sucked all of the most emotional parts out of Part 2, making me believe that had they combined the films into one movie, it would have helped intensify the impact of the final war on the Capitol and the liberation of Panem, keeping the film from feeling like just another propo.
My Grade: B
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