The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2

mockingjay-poster-final
At least the poster is cool.

Let me preface this review by saying that I am not exactly the most qualified individual to be critiquing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. I haven’t read any of the books, I’m not in the core-teenage demographic that this series is targeted to, and I have only seen one other Hunger Games movie–I saw the first Hunger Games as a part of a class I took on religion and film.* I confess, I wasn’t planning to see this movie at all; I went more or less spur of the moment last night after some friends of mine invited me to go see it with them, and I never pass up the opportunity to go the theater (particularly when the one I go to serves $2 beer on Thursdays). So basically my opinion is worth next to nothing here if you are an invested fan of this series, though it might have some significance for other individuals who, like me, aren’t familiar with this world but find themselves seeing the picture anyways. Regardless, take everything I say with a good helping of salt.

This is, as advertised, the last of the Hunger Games series. Or, technically, the second half of the last of the series, as Mockingjay-Part 2 continues the annoying recent trend in book-based film series where the last installment is split into multiple parts. Now, there’s nothing wrong, in principle, with doing that if a book is especially long and the story would benefit from multiple cinematic installments; but in these recent cases it really has more to do, I think, with a studio being able to double their grosses without really having to make more story. The result is that, with all the setup evidently having happened in Mockingjay-Part 1, this final installment feels only like half of a movie in an inelegant sort of way, and I don’t think its even the better of the two halves.

I recall from the first film that these stories are set in a dystopian North America with a tyrannical government that forces kids to participate in survival style games for entertainment/keeping people in control. I guess since the first film, some kind of rebellion was started, as this final one is about that government being overthrown. Again, it’s sort of hard to follow everything without really knowing the backstory; and it doesn’t help that this movie is only half of a story anyways. To the film’s credit, it more or less explains enough of what you need to know in order to get the basic plot. There was no way for me to comprehend every detail without understanding the whole story, but I felt like I was able to pick up the gist of it as the film went along.

Also to the film’s credit, even if I couldn’t have followed the story, there is a good amount of action on screen to hold people over; and it’s probably the most accessible aspect of the film to someone like me. It’s pretty varied as well, with guns and explosions and chases and floods and zombies (the film calls them Mutts, I think, but they’re basically zombies). So the movie is at least entertaining on that level.

I imagine that if you’ve followed this series, the character moments sprinkled into this film will mean a lot to you; but for me it didn’t really do much. A lot of that has to do with the performances of the actors. I can’t help but question the acting prowess of the young stars in this movie. Veterans like Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman**, and Donald Sutherland make the most out of the material they have to work with; but Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth and whoever else plays a young character don’t exactly sell the emotions they are trying to convey on screen all that well (actually this is a problem that was also present in the first Hunger Games, and I suspect it has probably persisted throughout the whole series). Frankly, these actors have done better work elsewhere. Here it mostly falls flat.  

Unfortunately, this is also one of those movies where the ending is the weakest part. The whole buildup in this narrative is about taking down the evil president of this tyrannical regime; but when it finally happens, it’s pretty anticlimactic, all things considered. The big overthrow happens with our protagonist, Katniss, first watching it as a bystander, unable to participate, and then ultimately getting knocked out. It’s a really odd move; for as little invested as I was in the story, I nevertheless did want to see Katniss triumphant here. And she isn’t. Maybe that’s the point: no one ever really wins. But it’s kind of a sour point to make this late in the game.

There’s also a plot twist that they try to shoehorn into the picture; but it’s resolved in a matter of minutes and doesn’t really seem to contribute much to the overall story. And then the movie drags on even more after that, and then it just sort of peters out; leaving with a whimper instead of a bang.

Maybe if I had seen the series in total, I might be able to view this final entry in a perspective that would make it seem cathartic, but as a general movie goer, it just didn’t seem to be all that satisfying a finale. Then again, maybe even fans of the series won’t like it very much: that sentiment seemed to be the case given the reactions of the packed audience I saw this film with. They surely knew this series better than I, but the ending of the movie brought a collective “meh” from everyone; by comparison, similar finales for Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings earned applause and cheers from the audiences in the theaters I was in.

So yeah, this movie really didn’t do it for me. And I’m not sure how well it did it for its core audience, either. But again, this is the last in the series (until someone finds a way to extend it) and I imagine it will, at the very least, bring some closure for fans of the series; even if the storytelling is underwhelming.

On a penultimate note, I once read an article explaining that the appeal of the Hunger Games was in how it represented the everyday lives of teenagers: never in control, always being watched, and forced to do things for the benefit of others without much benefit to themselves. As such, the core audience is attracted to these stories because it truly resonates with their lives; and maybe they’ll always enjoy these movies for that reason, or at least take in stride if a particular entry is lackluster. And if that’s case, more power to them. Who am I to judge?

So if you’re a fan of this series, I’d say go see Mockingjay-Part 2; make your own conclusions about the movie, or at least go by someone who is more sympathetic and knowledgable of this series than I. I hope you enjoy it. Everyone else: I’d say just go see The Peanuts Movie.

*There are interesting ideas on what this film says about religion. I’ll leave it at that.

**Unfortunately, Hoffman committed suicide partway through filming. His character in the movie just kind of disappears towards the end; with his final words being in the form of a letter written to Katniss. It’s a little awkward, but understandable given the circumstances.

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