The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material
Running Time: 137 min.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Evan Ross, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Patina Miller
Small role: Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (based on the book, "Mockingjay", by Suzanne Collins)
Review published November 20, 2015
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is the fourth and final film based on the Suzanne Collins trilogy of young adult novels, and the story, as it reaches its big climax, shifts more into a war flick and less a sci-fi based cautionary tale, as it becomes a game of survival to see if Katniss (Lawrence, Serena) can stay alive long enough to capture and kill the villainous President Coriolanus Snow (Sutherland, Horrible Bosses). It's a decidedly darker film, not only in themes, but also in delivery, as the high-gloss shine of the aristocracy becomes dismantled by revolution, and what's left of the Capitol is a mostly empty wasteland of deadly booby-traps set up by the craft game-makers (they've dubbed this the 'unofficial 76th Hunger Games'), forcing the small band to evade explosive landmines, powerful gun turrets, floods of hot oil, murderous humanoid mutants (called Mutts), and other nastier concoctions to achieve their ultimate mission. To complete her task, Katniss defies the explicit instructions given to her from leader of the rebellion, President Alma Coin (Moore, Seventh Son), to remain a tool of propaganda by actually taking a small but trustworthy faction of mainly prior Hunger Games survivors out to the battlefield to infiltrate the Capitol and put an end to the tyrannical reign of Snow over the 13 districts of Panem.
As with the other film adaptations of the popular Collins novels, the strength of Mockingjay - Part 2 comes from its stellar cast of actors, who are able to occasionally breathe life into some fairly weak characterizations and rudimentary bits of dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence, in particular, has most of the film's pathos riding on her shoulders, and it's to her credit that she gives her part her all, despite what must be, at this stage of her career, a truly two-dimensional role unworthy of an Oscar-caliber performer at its heart. If you feel at all for Katniss Everdeen, it's Lawrence that sells you on her, because it's skimpily developed goods if based solely on what's there on the written page. Donald Sutherland ups his game, looking like he's having the time of his life in his portrayal of the duplicitous Snow, as his intentions and execution begins to become a bit cloudier as the storyline progresses, and as his empire begins to rattle under the weight of the onslaught of the rebellion. Julianne Moore is always solid, but the film is yet another reminder of how much we miss the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man), who died before all of his part was completed; his absence is especially evident during a key moment in the film in which he was meant to deliver some poignant and erudite words, left anticlimactic due the fact that it's not read aloud without any sense of passion as part of an impersonal formal letter.
Unfortunately, for much of the run time, the supporting characters we enjoy best are pushed to the sidelines in favor of the immediate crew around Katniss, who are just not as compelling, which is, in no small degree, due to the misguided financial decision to cut the final book of the series into two parts for film. Characters we enjoy are off screen, while characters we can barely distinguish from one another get more screen time than would ever have been deemed necessary, resulting in an imbalance in our interest in seeing where things go without the kind of momentum it would normally have as part of a complete and concise tale. It also allows for far more cloying scenes involving whether Katniss will ultimately choose blandly defined Gale (Hemsworth, Love and Honor) or a mentally unstable Peeta (Hutcherson, Epic) as a mate, which, in the face of the potential deaths of all of them and everything they hold dear, seems like it shouldn't have even entered the conversation. Has anybody ever though that a film as relatively superficial and artless as The Hunger Games would be better if we could see two entire hours of what would have been deleted scenes in a one-movie adaptation?
The other problem with the film is that, with a legion of fans of the novel to appease, it can't deviate too much from the source material, and, unfortunately, many readers consider "Mockingjay" to be the weakest entry in the book trilogy, and with an unsatisfactory epilogue. Alas, despite some well-mounted action sequences in the middle of the film, it's hard to generate actual suspense and chills when the movies haven't done a great job at giving us rounded characters we can believe in, or a compelling story we can be truly invested into. Who lives and who dies at the end becomes less important than whether there is a fitting end to all of the build-up, and while this final entry will do justice for those who want no deviation from the book, it comes at the expense of the overall story because, quite frankly, the story doesn't seem particularly worthy of four-blockbuster motion-picture saga to begin with.
Whether the film will satisfy or dissatisfy you will likely depend on what you expect going into it, but I will say that I'm content enough with how it has played out, even if I question whether it deserves such fan fervor. After four films in four years of middling interest with characters I still could scarcely care a lick about, I'm also fatigued enough with this franchise to be satisfied with letting it end here, even if I'm cynical enough to expect more town the pike when the studio gets hungry for another tent-pole release a few years down the road. As with the rest of the series, it's passable entertainment, but one in which is popular as films because it's a phenomenon much more so than because it's truly inspirational film-making.
©2015 Vince Leo