The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 | Love

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland

The decision to split the final book in Suzanne Collins’ mega-selling The Hunger Games trilogy into two movies seemed like a worthwhile one after the first part of Mockingjay landed in cinemas last year. Following up the brilliant sequel Catching Fire by exploring weighty themes like propaganda, torture and the power games involved in igniting and overthrowing revolutions, it was like a dystopian fantasy riff on Zero Dark Thirty. Too bad, then, that there’s nothing in this follow-up to suggest director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong (working in collaboration with Collins herself) couldn’t have condensed everything of cinematic worth into one meaty three-hour movie.

Part of the problem of dividing the story in two is the immediate loss of dramatic momentum. Picking up immediately after the previous film’s bleak cliffhanger ending – which has left Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) recovering from an attack by love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) whose mind has been “hijacked” – the film spends much of the first hour restating themes already well communicated by the last film. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that the filmmakers simultaneously over-estimate the ability of casual fans to remember intricate details about characters who’ve made only fleeting appearances in the previous movies. Thus we get lots of scenes of Katniss once again wrestling with the morality of war, particularly as the resistance movement with which she’s now thoroughly embedded edges ever closer to storming the Capitol to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Yet we also get insignificant moments that muddy the narrative waters and diminish the impact of events that should be inherently dramatic. An early assassination attempt on Katniss, for instance, seems to have no real bearing on the rest of the film, and it soon becomes clear that the two big questions driving the plot – is Katniss just a propaganda tool for resistance leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and will Coin really be any better than Snow? – are not really complex enough to sustain the two-hour running time.

That’s too bad because once things do pick up there are some great moments. Francis Lawrence (who took over The Hunger Games franchise with the second film) has an uncanny ability to ratchet up the intensity of the action in ways that test the limits of the 12A certificate without softening what’s happening in the story. The booby-trapped surroundings of the Capitol, for instance, once again bring to prominence the sadistic arena death match premise Suzanne Collins began this saga with as Katniss and her fellow soldiers find themselves contending with explosive pods, automated machine gun turrets and spring-loaded torture devices. Added to which the film once again refuses to shy away from the consequences of war. The deaths of innocent people and the way these things weigh heavily (or not) on the consciences of those involved adds much-needed depth, ensuring these set-pieces aren’t just examples of mindless spectacle. Indeed it would have been ironic if they had just been mindless spectacle given the story is largely concerned with showing the way in which such things are used to advance political and ideological causes in times of conflict.

But again, this is all stuff that could have been telescoped into one movie. Though the saga remains the best acted of all the recent fantasy franchises – The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, the Harry Potter saga, those abysmal Hunger Games knock-offs Divergent and The Maze Runner – the extra space afforded the actors doesn’t really add much. Of course, any excuse to see Philip Seymour Hoffman on screen with the likes of Julianne Moore or Lawrence is a bonus (this really is his final movie), but his untimely death early last year may also have impacted the finalé more than expected. With the rest of the cast, despite a few moments of playful self-awareness (there are cracks about the “tacky romantic drama” between Katniss, Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale, and Katniss herself acknowledges the tedium of her burden at one point), we also get a lot of wheel spinning. The actors may ground their characters with real emotions that offset the film’s more fanciful elements, but none of them undergoes much of a progression in this film, at least not enough to justify the extra time. And on the subject of extra time, the ending, while faithful to the book, feels unnecessary to the film – its Return of the King-style unwillingness to let go undermining just how remarkable Katniss is as a character.

Still, Lawrence (Jennifer not Francis) has pulled off something special over the course of these films. Transformed from a relative unknown to a Hollywood-conquering Oscar-winner, she’s given them continued credibility and done that tricky thing of bringing an already beloved literary character to life in a way that will make it impossible for future generations of readers to picture anyone else as Katniss. n

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