Well, that’s that. After three years and four movies, The Hunger Games have finally come to an end. That is, until the inevitable prequels, spinoffs, reboots, etc. But we have at least 2 to 3 weeks until those are announced.
So how does the ‘big finale’ fare? Chances are if you’re a fan of the book you’ll enjoy this final final movie. It faithfully translates its source material to a tee, missing nary a single beat from the novel.
The bad news is that Mockingjay, in whatever iteration, be it film or book, isn’t very good. It ends the otherwise solid Hunger Games series on a sour, underwhelming note that reduces its characters to one-note shells and confirms once and for all that the series’ creator Suzanne Collins didn’t have much of an idea where to take this story. It’s a disappointing conclusion to a series of films that had, up until this point, been pretty damn good.
Things kick off right where Part 1 left off and go downhill from there. Katniss is recovering both physically and mentally from the recent attempt on her life by her beloved Peeta, who has been brainwashed by the Capitol. She’s desperate to assassinate President Snow, the appointed architect of the entire globe’s pain and suffering, so she, along with her merry band of freedom fighters, make a last-ditch effort to do so, traveling deep into the heart of the Capitol to end this war once and for all.
Oh, and there are lots of death traps and obstacles keeping them from their goal. Probably just so Finnick can say, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.”
Most Hunger Games fans agree that the 3rd and final(?) novel of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy is not the series’ finest moment, and the inherent weaknesses of the source material are exacerbated by the financially-driven decision to split the film adaptation into two parts. If the studio had seen fit to make a single movie from the material, it might have gotten a pass, but this split further emphasizes just how little actually happens in this final story. Everything is far too drawn out.
At its core, Mockingjay’s most glaring issue is the handling of the series’ main character Katniss Everdeen. Katniss, the strong, proactive Girl on Fire we’ve come to know and love in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, has been reduced to a passive pawn, given not much more to do besides mope about how crappy her life is. She doesn’t make many decisions on her own, opting instead to sit willfully by as the Rebellion parades her around as their mascot/spokesperson, and the decisions she does make aren’t particularly interesting or all that different from the ones she made in the previous movies. (“I have to kill President Snow;” “I have to decide if I love Peeta or Gale more;” “I have to shoot something with a bow and arrow;” etc.)
Ultimately, Katniss contributes very little to the final outcome of the story. It wouldn’t be so bad if Mockingjay was a compelling character study about the effects of war on the human psyche, but it’s not. Collins just wasn’t a good enough writer to make it so. Mockingjay never manages to rise above its Young Adult trappings because Collins always feels the need to throw in some pandering love triangle scenes that feel tonally awkward and just plain silly.
I kid you not, there’s a scene in the movie (faithfully adapted from the text) where, after suffering a devastating attack that caused the deaths of a couple of their compadres, Gale and Peeta sit down and discuss which one of them Katniss will end up choosing as her ‘boy toy’. It is so blatantly out of place and absurd considering the grim seriousness of everything else going on around them, it’s borderline hilarious. Every time Mockingjay tries to do something mature and interesting with its story, it is immediately undone by lame moments like this, which essentially serve to remind the audience that this is a story primarily targeted at teenage girls.
And speaking of tragic deaths, the scenes in which certain characters bite the dust have barely any effect, happening so quickly that you can almost hear the filmmakers’ shrugging their shoulders. It doesn’t help that these deaths feel so pointless and contribute nothing to the story or characters. It feels like Collins was desperate to wring some emotional resonance from her fledgling novel, so, at the last second, she decided to kill off a couple folks, no matter how little sense it made to do so or how little build up there was. This rushed mentality is a characteristic inherent to the source material, which feels more like a draft pushed out to capitalize on the success of the series than a carefully constructed or considered story. The main advantage the films have had over their source material is that we don’t have to deal with Katniss’ inner-monologue, which, with Mockingjay in particular, primarily consists of “Peeta or Gale? Gale or Peeta?” but they still can’t overcome these inherent story weaknesses.
I feel like I’ve spent more time complaining about the source material than actually critiquing the film it inspired. I’ll admit that on a technical level The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is superb. Director Francis Lawrence has done an admirable job carrying this series to the finish line with visual zest, and I will forever respect him for the amazing work he did with Catching Fire. It’s just such a shame that he and the screenwriters (Peter Craig and Danny Strong) were so held back by such mediocre source material. There’s a sense of ‘let’s just get this over with’ that instills every frame. But even despite this, there are a couple memorable sequences, such as an inspired sewer chase that involves terrifying monsters pulled straight from your nightmares.
It’s in the quieter moments that the film falls apart at the seams. None of these characters have anything interesting to say anymore. They’re all so single-minded and focused on an ultimate goal – Katniss wants to kill President Snow; Peeta and Gale want to be with Katniss – that they come across as stale and one-note. Peeta gets a bit more credit because he kind of jumps back and forth between wanting to kill or kiss Katniss due to the Capitol’s brainwashing, giving his character a more interesting dynamic. At the end of the day, though, he just kind of falls back into his old ‘sad puppy dog’ routine.
Despite the lack of material to work with, the cast gives it their all. Jennifer Lawrence is this franchise’s shining beacon and she manages to deliver even with all the elements working against her. Likewise, Josh Hutcherson continues to give an admirable performance, hitting all the right emotional notes as the series’ token damsel in distress. Donald Sutherland is always a joy to watch and, even with his limited screentime, he makes a major impression. The rest of the supporting cast is relegated to either staring vacantly or making monotone, ‘inspirational’ speeches. Liam Hemsworth suffers the most as poor Gale, who does practically nothing this time around, except shoot a couple people and mope about Katniss’ affections being divided between him and Peeta.
I’d like to call Mockingjay Part 2 a disappointment, but I was expecting as much, seeing as how I knew where the story was going. I think what’s most disappointing about this movie is seeing so much talent so squandered. The Hunger Games film series simply couldn’t maintain the momentum of its first two entries and it’s such a shame because there are some really interesting ideas here. I’ll give credit where credit is due: it’s a bold move for such a popular series to end on such a downbeat note. I just wish the darkness and depression were in favor of a more interesting story and characters.