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Hunger Games, The: Mockingjay- Part 2
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by Jay Seaver

"Stretching a good thing much too far."
2 stars

It's been gratifying to watch the "Hunger Games" film series evolve from little more than a toothless take on the same material as "Battle Royale" to one which is at least interesting in its cynicism, to the point where I was surprised how much I anticipated this final entry in the series. Unfortunately, the final film stretches everything out beyond reason, and what was intriguing before is played out well before this episode mercifully ends.

It picks up pretty closely on the heels of Mockingjay -Part 1, when former Hunger Games victor and symbol of the rebellion Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was nearly killed by comrade-in-arms Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who had apparently been very effectively brainwashed when captured in the Capital. Though she recovers quickly, rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) still chooses to mostly use Katniss as a propaganda tool, although she finds her way to the front lines, looking to be the one to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Has there ever been a series whose nominal protagonist did less than Katniss Everdeen? Maybe it is different in the original novels, but she has been a fairly passive player in all three previous films, becoming interesting for how she chafes at this and doubly so for how the series' young core audience reacts to her - do they realize that heroine they identify with is seldom more than a pawn, even when she seems to have some skills at manipulating public opinion herself? Logically, this would be the film where Katniss seizes control of her own destiny, but that never really happens - even when she does attempt to strike out on her own, agency is quickly snatched away from her. And yet, she never seems to confront that she is not the author of her own destiny; the filmmakers seem terrified of what should be their film's central idea.

And it's not like they don't have time to work with this; Mockingjay - Part 2 lasts two and a quarter hours and there is stuff in there that could be replaced - and that's well before an extended epilogue that will make theater-goers regret the large soda something fierce. There's a frustrating sense of running around in circles when people ceremoniously declare Katniss dead without a body not once, but twice - the second time after Snow has actually spent time monologuing about why they shouldn't do that. Things of maor importance happen off screen, while a love triangle that has somehow manage to persist for four movies despite being among cinema's dullest can't even be made interesting by one person being conditioned to murder the other.

The action, meanwhile, is frustrating. Take, for instance, how original writer Suzanne Collins, knowing a good formula when she sees one, has set up the attack on the capital to parallel the deathtrap-filled arenas of the "Hunger Games" that served as the first two films' showpieces - even if it is kind of silly, it's not a bad idea, but director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Peter Craig & Danny Strong don't seem to quite have their fingers on how to present it. Katniss's team never seems to be moving quickly or methodically, and the three big set-pieces along the way happen without much explanation of what the characters are up against - the sadists designing such things the first couple times around at least had a sense of showmanship! - and the time it becomes an actual fight is a bit too reminiscent of the first movie in how the filmmakers seem to deliberately step back from giving violence visceral, emotional impact in order to preserve a PG-13 rating. It should be a hell of a lot more exciting than it is.

You could argue that even its good points are disappointing, in that they often seem to be only half-glimpsed, but they still make things much more interesting and ambitious than many other examples of this sort of young-adult sci-fi. There's some decent satire in how the televisions in the Capital report on war like it's sports or an unscripted television show (especially since it plays with how strongly influenced the results are), There's plenty of neat design work, too, and it's hard to go far wrong with Jennifer Lawrence heading up the cast. She's fully committed to the character, doing as good a job to fight Katniss's inherent passivity to make her as interesting as she is.

The only other member of a rather loaded cast who truly seems to get his money's worth is Donald Sutherland, who sadly only gets a scene or two with Lawrence but does his best work there, making Snow not just evil but a guy who enjoys who he is, even when facing imminent execution (the look on Snow's face in that scene, where everyone else seems two steps behind the audience, is one of the film's great joys). There is some serious underuse otherwise - Julianne Moore gets time but gives little nuance, while Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Dormer, and Stanley Tucci (one scene!) all deserve to be on-screen more. Woody Harrelson continues to be one of the series's MVPs, though, even if he does seem a little off-kilter in a scene that seems like it may originally have been meant for someone else.

(That someone, of course, being Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in February 2014 with a couple scenes left to film. It's a kick in the gut to see him show up early on and be the best part of every scene he's in, making communication expert Plutarch Heavensbee quietly wry without upstaging his co-stars. I'd love to see him doing that scene Harrelson winds up with, just to see him walk that line between genuine principle and ruthless amorality, as well as another few dozen movies in the coming decades, but that is obviously not to be.)

"Mockingjay - Part 2" winds up not being a very good movie, although it's nowhere near the sort of disaster that would invalidate the good work this series did in its middle chapters. I'd love to see an editor take the footage from it and "Part 1" and see if there's a great movie to be made that way - it seems like the raw material is there and just spread much too thin this time around.

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originally posted: 11/21/15 16:02:22
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User Comments

1/01/17 Raymond Pretty nice ending (though it would be possible -- if a bit hard -- to press into 1 film) 4 stars
4/01/16 Meep Mostly boring, splitting a short book in two instead of 1 tight film 2 stars
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