The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was one of the few times I felt that a science fiction movie did a good job of feeling like a science fiction novel. Peripheral characters developed, expectations were subverted and new characters that had actual importance rather than serving the main character appeared. Even Katniss, who I feel is purposely a blank slate, grew a bit. It served those who like the books well, and for those of us who had not read them it made the world of Panem that much more intriguing.
Then, as usual, the studio decided to milk the series for every last drop. I thought the last two Harry Potter movies were overly padded, and they encompassed a huge book, whereas Mockingjay was just shy of 400 pages - i.e., a normal sized novel. It made about as much sense to divide this into two movies as it did dividing The Hobbit into three. The other problem is that, though not reading the books, I was kind of aware that Katniss took somewhat of a backseat Mockingjay. She goes on her mission to kill President Snow, has use as a symbol for the revolt against the Capitol and then makes her most important contribution at the end, but once again she is back to being largely not influential on the greater course of events. Bigger things than her are happening and, from I understand of Mockingjay, it is concerned about those events, and Katniss's own story is there mainly to provide a narrative frame.
That makes The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 dull as dishwater. So much is built up at the end of Catching Fire, with the reveal of District 13 and the bombing of District 12 to the capture of Annie, Peeta and Johanna. While Katniss is a symbol of the revolution we find out the whole thing is being engineered by District 13 and President Coin. All the reveals are nice, but then most of part one is concerned with the rescue of the other victors and the reveal that Peeta has been brainwashed by President Snow to believe that Katniss is his ultimate enemy. This, and the introduction to District 13, could have been knocked down to about 45 minutes and served as the beginning of a one-movie adaptation of the book. Instead, audiences were asked to be patient, with the promise that all the good stuff would be in part two. The promise is pretty much fulfilled but, if box office returns were to be believed, many people had stopped caring after slogging through the third movie.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is distraught to find out that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has been brainwashed against her by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). President Coin (Julianne Moore) uses her facilities to bring him back to reality, but it looks bleak. In truth, Coin is more concerned with the propaganda aspect of his recovery and with keeping Katniss in line for the same reason. She wins one such victory when Everdeen is shot by loyalists during a general surrender in District 2. Katniss herself is becoming more concerned about the methods of Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), as it becomes apparent that Coin's interests may outweigh those of a free Panem.
Disillusioned with being used as a prop, Katniss stows away on cargo flight to the front lines in an attempt to infiltrate the Capitol and kill President Snow herself. She is quickly discovered by Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and recruited, with other victors - including Peeta - into a symbolic unit led by a professional soldier named Boggs (Mahershala Ali). Snow has evacuated most of the Capitol to the central areas and mined the outer regions with "pods" - mainly the same devices used to cause hazards in the Hunger Games themselves. The band slowly makes its way toward Snow's mansion, but the outcome of their revolution may not be exactly what Katniss had in mind.
If this had been one movie it would have been on the same level as Catching Fire, especially if a number of elements that the movies glossed over from the books (like what Avoxes and Mutts are) were further expanded upon. As it is the finale is at least on par with the first movie, even if I feel that by not having read the books I am missing quite a bit. This is one of those times where it would have been nice to have some explanations, something that was expertly done in the first with Cesar's (Stanley Tucci) narration of foreign concepts being worked into the context of the film. When the victors are in the sewers and they say "Mutts" are released, I was expecting something similar to the dogs that cornered Katniss and Peeta at the end of the first film. Instead, these are pale CHUD-like creatures that there has been no build-up to.
One of the things I do like, however, is that the story continues to subvert expectations until the end. I don't necessarily think it was handled as well in the movie as it could have been, but anyone expecting Katniss to be a "chosen one" obviously hasn't been paying attention since the beginning. In The Hunger Games she almost literally stumbles into every situation that makes her a hero and, though she believes in the wider cause, she is carried along with it rather than being at the center. There are so many things going on around her which she doesn't understand, and which are out of her control, that by the time she gets to directly affect the outcome of Panem it is over and done with. There are some other events that lead up to it that are mishandled in the movie, and don't carry the emotional heft they should, but at least the ultimate choices she makes actually make sense.
The unfortunate part is everything that should make one care about what is happening is in this movie, and none of it in the preceding film. I don't blame audiences for giving up as there was no direct indication it was going to get any better. For those not reading the book it could just have been assumed that the revolution would happen and Katniss would Mary Sue her way to become the new President of Panem and bring sunshine and lollipops to everyone. I admire the actors involved with this, with most of them (even the ones not given the time they should have) bringing a sense of commitment to the story, but it really deserved to be just one strong movie to finish things off rather than dividing it in two. As for the story itself I think it is an important message to its intended audience. Too may Young Adult franchises emphasize a chosen one character. The Hunger Games, instead, shows us that a person can still affect history, but that the world will still continue on no matter how important they, or others, think they are. The idea that even heroes are mortal and flawed is one not seen in many books or movies, and I still think that is what sets this series apart from others.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015)
Time: 137 minutes
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson
Director: Francis Lawrence