The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 can at times be as tedious as its title. The movie suffers from what can be described as Lord of the Rings Trilogy Ending Syndrome. After the dramatic climax is over, there are at least three separate dénouements, any of which could have served as a single ending on its own. Because the final book in the trilogy that this film franchise is based on was already split into two movies, the endless concluding is even more taxing than it might have been. It’s obvious money was the primary motivating factor. That’s a shocking revelation about Hollywood, I know. At the same time, Mockingjay, Part 2 is an effective action thriller that keeps things moving for most of its two hours and seventeen minutes.
The film picks up just moments after the events of Part 1, when Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is attacked by fellow Hunger Games survivor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who was just rescued from the clutches of the nefarious President Snow. The rebels discover that Snow (Donald Sutherland) used a combination of torture and brainwashing to program Peeta, making him believe that Katniss is evil and must be destroyed. While being held in the capital, Peeta was used as a weapon against the burgeoning rebellion by appearing in propaganda meant to convince the citizens of Panem that their totalitarian society must be upheld. Now Peeta is literally a weapon, sent to kill Katniss.
Just like Part 1, this movie deals with a couple important themes in interesting and thought-provoking ways. The use and purpose of propaganda, on both sides of a conflict, and the devastating effect of a constant state of war on those who have to live with it continue to be explored. The rebels, headed by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), think they can deprogram Peeta. Naturally, Coin wants to use Peeta for her own propaganda purposes. When Katniss decides to head to the capital against orders, Coin sends Peeta to join her so video footage can show he has switched sides, giving a morale boost to her soldiers.
But can Peeta be trusted not to hurt Katniss? Ultimately a politician, Coin’s motives are questioned by those close to Katniss, since the Mockingjay could be seen as a threat to Coin’s power in the event of the rebels’ victory. It’s this kind of Machiavellian intrigue that makes Mockingjay, Part 2 thematically rich. Instead of an unquestionably virtuous leader, President Coin is a figure who might or might not be as duplicitous as the despot President Snow. This dynamic kept me guessing right up until the tense climax, when Katniss herself is forced to decide what’s best for the people of Panem.
Katniss is our true hero, so it’s her decision to make. If it was still a question (it’s not), Jennifer Lawrence proves here once again that she is a bona fide movie star. Her performance as Katniss is nuanced and powerful. You can see the weariness in her eyes when she talks with her romantic interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) about the effect war has had on her. Gale wants to end the fighting by any means necessary, even if that means civilians are killed in the process. He tries to convince Katniss that for the greater good, sometimes killing isn’t personal. In one of the movies’ most powerful scenes, Katniss explains to Gale that she more than anyone knows that taking another life is always personal.
It’s that kind of emotional maturity – both in Katniss’ character, and in the film as a whole – that allows for Katniss to display deep compassion for Peeta. This is a character that is completely broken by the forces using him, and Katniss’ struggle to help him, even at her own peril, teaches a lesson about moral courage through action, not speeches.
But as strong as Mockingjay, Part 2 is in making these kinds of points, it also falls back on dramatic excesses that could have easily been avoided. There is a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale that is as uninteresting as it is melodramatic. The entire Hunger Games series has dabbled in this plot line, but it’s always felt tacked-on and forced in order to please what Hollywood thinks the female YA audience, the initial target for the franchise, wants.
There is also an extended sequence that travels down well-worn action blockbuster territory. It involves hundreds of CGI generated monsters with no eyes, and mouths full of razor sharp teeth, unleashed on our heroes in the underground sewers of the capital. The computer generated beasts look like they were borrowed from a movie with questionable effects, like I Am Legend. The whole thing feels like it belongs in another movie, and it would have best been left on the cutting room floor. The scene is interminable.
Then there’s that problem with the ending(s). Just like with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the filmmakers don’t seem to know when to quit. They forget that the fun in storytelling – just like in life – is the journey, not the destination. So, either the filmmakers or author Suzanne Collins (I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure which) force multiple scenes of conclusion, not confident enough to end their tale simply and gracefully. Taken as a whole, though, The Hunger Games series is a satisfying tale of action and suspense that deals with complex themes in a thoughtful way. It tackles the intense psychological damage inflicted on people who live in a constant state of war and deprivation, something few other blockbuster franchises with war-laden imagery can claim. Mockingjay, Part 2, despite its flaws, is a worthy final chapter to the Panem saga, and provides us one last gripping adventure with Katniss and company.
Why it got 3.5 stars:
- Mockingjay, Part 2 is so close to being a 4 star film. It's those damned multiple endings that hold it back.
- And the CGI monsters in the sewer.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- I wish Jeffrey Wright had been given more to do. He's one of my favorite character actors, and it's always a good thing when he's on screen.
- Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the best actors of his generation, and a tortured soul. It made me sad when I realized this would be the last time I'd ever see him on the big screen in a new release.
- When Katniss realizes she must kill President Snow herself, she sneaks onto the front lines against the orders of President Coin. I thought the movie was going down a radically different direction than it ended up taking. It would have been an interesting choice to follow her attempt to get at Snow all alone. I wasn't disappointed with the way it ended up going, though.