The climax of the The Hunger Games saga is something that will be remembered as an example of the hype and grandiose production exceeding the ability for the subject matter to deliver. Continuing the trend of other cultural phenoms Harry Potter and Twilight, the decision to split the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy into two parts is one that, on paper, seemed to make the most sense – have one part be all set-up, the second be all resolution, ending on a mighty crescendo as Katniss realizes her destiny as the Mockingjay. Unfortunately, the story as told within the books isn’t quite as cut-and-dry exciting as that and this last blockbuster chapter is a bit more of a thud than a massive blast as a result.
Picking up, to the moment, where Mockingjay – Part One left off, Mockingjay – Part Two does start off strong, getting right into the political intrigue that’s been the driving force of the series. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is at odds with Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman – his last outstanding onscreen appearance) as to how to proceed after the events of the last movie ended. Coin and Heavensbee want her to remain the propagandist icon she is to help drive the rebellion, while Katniss wants to take a more active role in the overthrowing of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The divide between their ideals has almost become unbridgeable as Katniss becomes more aware that, though they share the want to take down Snow, perhaps Coin isn’t the best person to take his place as the all-seeing head of state.
Thanks to the events of Part One, Mockingjay – Part Two gets to spend a lot of time showing Katniss’ wrestle with where exactly she’s been leading the rebellion and who, exactly, is her real adversary. There’s little else to her journey now than to find the most direct route to taking out Snow, which is exactly what she does. But in that, the film never really feels like its truly upping the momentum. The big set-pieces are both big and dramatic – director Francis Lawrence continuing to demonstrate a keen eye for sweeping but personable set-pieces – but every time there’s a rush of adrenaline, the movie suddenly reverts back to the squalid moral struggles that shaped most of Part One. For a story that seemed so defined by a riotous conclusion, the final chapter contains only one lasting action sequence, with every other battle scene or garish display cut short, one way or another. Even towards the end when the death toll has real consequences for both the characters and the balance of power, the consequences feel downplayed, with no affectionate emphasis or emotional dwelling.
The film really struggles, too, to balance the broader complex themes of corruption and political power against a story more concerned with the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The action, though tense, is regularly interrupted by the story reminding us of the two men that Katniss is struggling to decide over, almost derailing the narrative tension in the process. Even Lawrence‘s performance seems a touch more vacant than previous films, herself aware of, and bored of, having to engage in this emotionally vapid exposition while at the same time leading a huge, world altering charge against an oppressive government.
Katniss is surrounded by stronger performances and characters too, with Natalie Dormer‘s Cressida and Mahersala Ali‘s Boggs giving her a strong backdrop and driving the character forward on her mission and their own encouragement is simply sidelined towards the end in favour of the love story endgame. There are scenes here that really mirror some harrowing recent real world events that are denied longer screentime, robbing them of their ability to make a statement using the rich socio-political backdrop that’s been well built with the previous movies. Until now, the juxtaposition added depth, showing Katniss juggling more “real” personal problems against having to also be this public figure – here they just feel forced and had me willing Katniss to tell both men to get over themselves because there are, very literally, much bigger things to worry about.
Mockingjay – Part Two will, almost certainly, entertain you if you were a fan of the previous films. All of the same tools that were well used in the other three movies are used here and to the same effect. When the action is on, it’s ON and the over-arching political themes do see some satisfying closure. It’s just the weaker aspects from the previous instalments, such as the heavy-handed romance and lack of appropriate character depth for certain main members of the cast are also present. I’m very much of the opinion that The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are modern sci-fi classics that will be among the cult hits from this era (if they were released 30 years ago we’d all be lauding them already), but this two-part ending will likely only be remembered as a misfired conclusion to what could have been.
A deflated finale to a genre-defining series