The bruised not broken and brooding Mockingjay Pt. 2 suffers from the destructive greed its series protests.
From the beginning I was unsure about the Hunger Games movies. With no big name crew talent attached to handle something on such a large-scale, it seemed like leading up to the release of the cultural zenith that was The Hunger Games first installment, the producers were making it up as they went along sticking to solid character actor casting and a by-the-book adaptation process. The Hunger Games trilogy of novels the third of which is notoriously the weakest, (rumour has it Suzanne Collins did not want for a 3rd Mockingjay tale) always were better suited for the cinematic scope anyways and I’m pleased to say the final installment for the film series lives up to the potential of its source material, rather than down to it. And although the movie lacks a strong Harry Potter like send-off due to a number of small problems previously unmarred by the series, Katniss and company don’t blow it.
The commitment and readied intensity of the actors should be a virtue of any final installment, however Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson seem to outgrow a series first B-script. Shackled to weak source material they come off as good but occasional over actors. James Newton Howard’s score is unmemorable, and it is difficult unless you’re a hardcore “Tribute” not to roll your eyes at some of the cheese-filled dialogue. [Note: Writing meaningful dialogue in action films can be difficult.] The sensitive line delivery mixed with scores of action wreak havoc on the film’s pacing. Where the measured aspect of Part 1 offered the writers room to have a conversation, here throwing the action and politics together is something the series proves it was never fully able to completely pull off. We get great action scenes with our heroes navigating a city-wide minefield of booby traps, yet the whiplash and wait between those sequences and laborious wordplay had me wondering what time it was for the first time in the franchise. And for what its worth for a finale it actually looked and felt at times cheap. This may fall on returning helmer Francis Lawrence who after directing two previous solid entries either fails to reign in his actors growing celebrity matching up them up with their performances or caving into studio indifference. These faults could have more easily been managed by doing a trilogy.
Overacting is indeed one of the films biggest weaknesses as a crying scene demonstrates towards the end of the film. Showing where Jennifer Lawrence’s range can be laid on a bit too thick she slobbers over a cat. Her increased stardom and agency making her harder to control as an actor can be a great mirror to reflect on her Katniss character. This is something I signified as a warning sign in the previous installment and other critics seem unfazed by, as if it’s blasphemy to speak ill of Lawrence the actor, now academy-award winner. I have no doubt she is a professional but maybe too much confidence can be dangerous; shining bright can also burn. Matching Lawrence comfortably opposite is Josh Hutcherson who finally gets some internal conflict to deal that brings dimension to his character. Having been brainwashed to kill Katniss his emotional beats come and go with the other parts of the story which similarly hits more than it misses.
-Mini-spoiler alert* because it is handled so poorly. An example of studio indifference based on lack of audience clarity or a lack of a clearly conceived endgame maligned by the four entries is the handling of Primrose Everdeen’s death. Its novel depiction is one of the few memorable moments in the book that cements the outcome of the series love triangle and hits Katniss the hardest. Its on-screen depiction is mistakenly a throwaway shot and a mess of time and place. It’s as if at the end the filmmakers had given up on reminding audiences who Katniss’ younger sister is why we should care.
Major-spoiler alert* The death of one of the few major characters earns Mockingjay Part 2 its highest praise as it conveys the desperate and restless climactic tone the filmmakers so clearly wanted to achieve. It is among the film’s and by virtue of being a finale one of the series biggest moments and it lands smoothly and is so heartfelt wrenching it doesn’t hurt that its section is partly lifted in style by Francis Lawrence’s previous film ‘I Am Legend’.
True to fashion, an arrangement of multiple character actors put in their time earning their paychecks; Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks bring their charms, and Donald Sutherland finally gets the most worthy screen time bringing the perceived final conflict to a close. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a ghostly presence onscreen with an absence felt by his death a week before his filming was scheduled to end. If only the audience could have gotten more than the proper send-off of well written words in his character’s name.*
This review is downbeat: especially for a final film, the first series I have tracked as a blog. Beginning after reading the books and having mostly reviewed the franchise since the beginning in comparison to its full predecessors Mockingjay Pt. 2 doesn’t match the heights set forth by Catching Fire and it is wanting. But make no mistake, when the game comes to its end this is a competently done film with good action and meaningful characters. As a strength it stands apart from Young Adult series in its tackling of real world political commentary. On the grand scale it deserves, it is a skillful sometimes improvised representation of its novel form. It doesn’t matter as much in this installment that its themes aren’t as sharply addressed as previous films, but its aims are ambitious enough to count for something.
Rating on the Continuum scale:
-3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3
Rank and File
- Catching Fire
- The Hunger Games
- Mockingjay: Part 2
- Mockingjay: Part 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 opens in theatres today.