REVIEW: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” – Finale on film mirrors lackluster climax in the novels

For those who enjoyed Mockingjay, the final novel in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, which completes the adaptation of that novel started in last year’s Part 1, should be everything they hoped it would be, as it seems to follow the novel’s progression almost page-by-page, event by event, and works hard to incorporate as many of the final book’s twists and turns as possible.

On the other hand, for those who were let down by Collins’ climactic volume after the emotional highs and intensity of the first two novels in the series, this film will be every bit the scattered and uneven viewing experience they expected it to be, and just as unsatisfying a conclusion to the film series as the final book was to the novels. It does feature some of the finest acting in the series to date, particularly from series lead Jennifer Lawrence, but even her strong work here isn’t enough to lift the leaden portions of the movie that drag down the proceedings and rob them of much potential impact.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) recovering from the attempt on her life at the end of the last film that left her arguably more shaken and terrified than anything she’d experienced during the Games. The rebellion of the 13 Districts of Panem against the Capitol, meanwhile, is now in full swing, and the rebellion’s leader, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), along with former Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), prepares her military forces to join with rebels from the other districts to take the battle right to the doorstep of Capitol President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). In order to enter the Capitol, however, they must first capture or at least subdue the loyalists’ vast military presence within a mountain stronghold in District 2; then, with no remaining threat outside the Capitol to their efforts, they can focus on defeating the Capitol’s remaining Peacekeepers and bring Snow to the justice he so rightly deserves.

Though she’s far from at her best, Katniss, motivated greatly by what Snow and the Capitol’s torturers did to her one-time partner in the Games, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), still wants to be part of the final push. Coin has reservations about putting her in harm’s way again, but Plutarch convinces her of the Mockingjay’s continued value as a symbol and a rallying figure, especially if she’s in the field fighting by the rebels’ side. She’s assigned to Squad 451, the “Star Squad”, led by Coin’s trusted field commander, Boggs (Mahershala Ali), seasoned District 13 soldiers Jackson (Michelle Forbes) and Homes (Omid Abtahi), sharpshooting twins the Leegs (Misty and Kim Ormiston), Katniss’s fellow Games Victor Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), and her lifelong friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Meant to be the faces of the final battle, as caught on film by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and her loyal camera crew, the Star Squad is meant to stay behind the front lines, as the approach to Snow’s presidential palace through the Capitol has been made far more dangerous thanks to the planting of hundreds of “pods”, unique deathtraps conceived by the gamesmakers to make lethal sport of the rebels’ insurrection.

Despite her squad’s orders, the pods, and the additional danger they represent, Katniss has other plans besides being the figurehead of the attack. She means to end Snow once and for all, so when things start to go wrong and the Star Squad finds itself cornered and fighting to survive within the Capitol, she sees her chance. But the closer that chance gets, the more another potential danger to the liberty the people of Panem have bled to achieve starts to reveal itself. Katniss soon sees that the endgame simply won’t be as simple as killing Snow, and exacting revenge for all the pain and loss he and the war with him has caused her may cost her everything remaining that she loves and holds dear.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

The fatal flaw in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 lies in its surprisingly sluggish pacing. With everything that last year’s Part 1 set into motion and left hanging at its conclusion — the introduction of District 13 and their role in the revolution, the ongoing propaganda war between Snow and Plutarch to sway the people of Panem either toward obedience or rebellion, and the rescue of those taken hostage by the Capitol at the end of Catching Fire — it might seem to those coming into Part 2 that there could be nothing but action remaining to resolve all those plot threads and bring the story to a rousing, thrilling conclusion. But in execution, the film starts very quietly and slowly, once again setting the scene and the stakes, once again reacquainting audiences with the characters and their roles, as though that’s necessary at this point after four films. It takes a good hour before the film really gets rolling in terms of action and intensity, and by then, arguably, all opportunity to get audiences as fully invested as possible is lost.

Then, after maybe forty minutes of breakneck sequences that come close to reaching the levels of suspense reached by the first two films, it all comes to a crashing halt, leaving the film’s intended cathartic denouement and resolution feeling needlessly drawn out and drained of life. Does it follow the novel’s progression of events? For the most part, yes. But this is one occasion where screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong could and should have taken some liberties with the source material in order to craft a tighter, more emotionally visceral conclusion. The hardcore fans of the books might have been displeased by that move, yes, but for the rest of the film’s audience, it might have provided a far better payoff for all that was built up in the preceding films.

In terms of positives, as stated earlier, Jennifer Lawrence seems to have saved her best turn as Katniss Everdeen for last. Here she’s called upon to display depths of fear, despair, and determined resolve the likes of which had only been hinted at earlier in the series, and she delivers every moment with credible passion and conviction. The other standout performer here, though his screen time is, as it has been throughout, somewhat limited, is Donald Sutherland, who simply oozes malice with his every look, word, and calculated gesture as President Snow. Even when playing the villain laid low and defeated, Sutherland instills in Snow a lethal air, as though simply being in the room with him and exchanging a word or two might cost any character their lives. Through his work in this series, Sutherland has brought to life one of the 21st Century’s first truly memorable screen villains, as it is quite unlikely that anyone whose seen these films will ever look at a white rose clipped to someone’s lapel quite the same way ever again.

All in all, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is on its own a mixed bag. It might prove interesting to watch Parts 1 and 2 back-to-back in order to gauge whether or not the film as a whole is a more evenly paced and satisfying film experience, and to compare that final product to other instances such as in the Harry Potter series or the recent Hobbit series of films where a story that was contained and effectively told in a single volume in print was divided into multiple volumes in film in order to incorporate more elements of the print version into the adaptation. Regardless of the fact that one might be working with adapting source material that is beloved by fans around the world, the “less really is more” cliché is a cliché for a reason — it’s often true. What’s ironic is that the producers and creative minds behind The Hunger Games series seemed to know and grasp that idea in the first two films, which many agree were superior entertainment experiences to reading the books, only to toss that idea aside in order to bring to life the story’s finale in a form as true to the book as possible, a book fans often argue was the weakest in the series. Quite frankly, this film franchise and its fans deserved a better ending, even if it ended up being something entirely different from what took place in the final novel’s pages. By playing it safe and sticking to the book, they basically assured that in terms of delivering the best final product possible, the odds would never be in their favor.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, with Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland. Directed by Francis Lawrence.
Running Time: 137 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.