Greedy. Misguided. Cynical. Call it what you like the marketing decision to split the final book in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy into two films has proven to be a terrible mistake. Last year’s sullen Part 1 was an unnecessarily protracted affair that was high on intrigue but painfully low on visceral action.
It also left the second film with a heck of a lot to do in order to wrap everything up into a satisfying conclusion. Sadly, Mockingjay Part 2 comes nowhere near achieving that feat. Continuing to be burdened by a bloated plot and a stark void of excitement, the film staggers towards the finish rather than burning out in a blaze of glory.
Questions are immediately raised about the need for last year’s film as the first half of Part 2 spends all of its time plodding through a pointless retread of the ground covered last time out. We pick up shortly after the events of Part 1 with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) recuperating from a vicious assault at the hands of a brainwashed Peeta (Hutcherson).
With Panem torn apart by the destructive force of civil war and the rebels preparing to mount a final assault on the Capitol, a revenge hungry Katniss seeks to strike out on her own on a mission to assassinate President Snow (Sutherland) and liberate her people once and for all, only to discover rebel leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) has other plans for her valuable Mockingjay.
Such a high-stakes set-up should signal the moment Katniss straps on her boots and makes a beeline for Snow’s palatial home hidden deep in enemy territory. Yet, frustratingly, she continues to be held back from the action, forced by Coin to hang behind shooting propaganda videos long after the danger has passed.
What’s most out of character is to see Katniss being so passive to the events around her. She stands and watches as people around her suffer for her actions, seemingly too numb to do anything about it – a trait that is completely out of synch with the Katniss of Collins’ books.
Rather than seeing our hero embroiled in a run of spectacular action sequences, we continue with the dour rumination on the devastation of war as Katniss and her squad make their way through Panem’s crumbling streets questioning whether such destruction will be worth it in the end.
While this sharp social commentary has been one of the biggest plus points in this mature fantasy franchise, it’s also a topic covered in relentless detail in Part 1; this film does little to move the conversation forward and the story stalls as a result.
One of the reasons it’s such a shame to see Katniss stuck in the role of pawn in Snow and Coin’s game of political brinkmanship is because it entirely wastes Jennifer Lawrence’s predictably outstanding performance. As always, Lawrence deftly combines the steely determination and fearlessness of a leader with a soft vulnerability that has made Katniss such a captivating presence on screen. Even with a henpecked role, Lawrence continues to carry the film, as she has the entire franchise, and it’s sad to think we may never see this strong female hero on screen again.
The film’s inability to balance character beats with exhilarating thrills becomes even more disappointing when the action does finally arrive to really show us what we’ve been missing. Katniss arrives in the Capitol to find Snow has transformed the city into an ersatz arena, rigged with a minefield of mortal traps and GCHQ-levels of CCTV cameras to broadcast the carnage in lieu of the actual Hunger Games.
Director Francis Lawrence handles these bursts of action superbly, especially with a standout sequence that takes place beneath the Capitol. As Katniss’ squad make their way through the city’s dense sewer network they’re set upon by a horde a zombie-esque creatures genetically engineered to wreak havoc against the rebels.
It’s an unbearably tense sequence, playing out as a cross between Alien and Dawn of the Dead as Lawrence ramps up the suspense before unleashing hell in a flurry of fire, explosions and tragic loss. It’s a breathless, intense and fantastically gripping scene and it’s a crying shame there aren’t more of them here.
For all its faults, though, it’s hard to deny Mockingjay builds to a magnificent climax. While there’s no moment of fiery triumph with Katniss standing atop the Capitol having slain the despicable Snow, The Hunger Games has never been about finding glory in survival. Instead, Mockingjay finds an unexpected end that still feels in keeping with the theme of exposing the ravages of conflict as Katniss suffers the ultimate price for her role in the fight.
This is not to say the finale is overly bleak; it’s rawly emotive and completely absorbing, and while there’s no real sense of victory there is at least a note of optimism in the end with the suggestion there is hope for a better future.
Mockingjay is not the send of The Hunger Games deserves, not by a long shot, but here’s hoping the franchise is remembered for what it achieved – conclusively proving a female can front a major blockbuster and forcing the Young Adult Fantasy genre to grow up – rather than where it faltered. After all, if the Mockingjay has taught us anything, it’s that, sometimes, it’s the intention that counts rather than the execution.
Runtime: 137 mins; Genre: Fantasy; Released: 19 November 2015;
Director: Francis Lawrence; Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel);
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland
Click here to watch the trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2