After the inert and exposition-heavy The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, the final chapter of the dystopic “trilogy” rumbles to its inevitable conclusion in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name, this 2015 movie is directed by Francis Lawrence with a screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong.
It’s hard to argue that Mockingjay - Part 2 is an improvement on its first portion, as Lawrence is up to the same tricks and the script dribbles with the same instructive dialogue. The personality has long since been drained from the pool and the source material’s poppy punch is abandoned in favour of monotonous slogs through dark and clinical action sequences.
Jennifer Lawrence is back at Katniss Everdeen and she’s recovering after the attack from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She wants to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but things have been complicated by District 13 leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). She wants to maintain her hold on the propaganda gift that is the Mockingjay.
Unfortunately for Coin, Katniss ain’t having that and she’s sneaks to the Capitol to get Snow. Coin finds out and assigns her to a special squadron designed to continue the effects of the propaganda war and the crew makes their way through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol. All hell breaks loose when Katniss learns some necessary truths about the nature of war.
The Hunger Games series effectively hit its apex with the thrilling second installment, Catching Fire, and Lawrence hasn’t exactly captured the same energy since. Not only did Catching Fire expose the excesses of the Capitol in gloriously sardonic fashion, it reminded the audience of more valued themes and contended with issues like economic disparity and classism.
For all the embers stoked at the midpoint of the series, Mockingjay - Part 2 does nothing with the warmth. While Collins’ series is certainly dystopic-lite for the teen set, it deserves plaudits for its attempted revolutionary bent and its vitality. It’s a pity that the films have only flirted with this context. It’s a greater pity that the conclusion grinds it down into soft pulp.
Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems have proven adept at navigating the world that is Panem, but the Mockingjay story forces them underground - literally. The action is cramped in small, dark spaces and there’s little life. The camera always seems a touch too close and the domineering brown/grey palette doesn’t help.
While the series’ first two entries brought out a visceral thrill in the reality television survival games, the last two outings feel confined and subdued. Considering the grandness of the stakes, it’s hard to justify why Lawrence and Co. drown everything in such dreariness.
Lawrence’s Katniss again lacks the emotional range and depth that made her into a larger-than-life hero early in the series. While she always excelled as a hard-boiled figure prone to periods of rawness, there’s a certain deadness that sets her off at a distance. As with her performance in Mockingjay - Part 1, she’s either sluggish or explosive.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, with Hutcherson’s Peeta going through the paces of routine mind control and coming around just at the right moment. His damaged goods routine is supposed to make the story personal for Katniss, but the lack of fire barely lifts this tragic-romantic poser above the ground normally occupied by sparkly vampires and wheezy high-schoolers.
There are some impressive moments that touch on the horrors of battle, like when bombs are released on a crowd, but Lawrence pulls away too quickly and seems more content in the murk. The shock is undercut in favour of too-attractive ho-humming and the strain is all but abandoned in favour of an ending so palpable that one needn’t have read the books to see it coming.
It’s hard to imagine that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 somehow found a way to waste performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland, but it did. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone but the most devoted defenders would be thrilled at the way this series, once full-bodied and significant, rattled to a drab end.
The Blu-ray release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 includes five hours of extras, with audio commentary from the director and producer Nina Jacobson as well as an extensive two-hour making-of documentary pertaining to the final film.