Francis Lawrence returns to direct the final cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel series. From literary phenomenon to enormously popular blockbuster series, The Hunger Games have become a staple of the cinematic calendar, just as enduring heroine Katniss Everdeen and lead actress Jennifer Lawrence have become household names. Once a face in the crowd, Katniss has become a liberator of a revolution and a wielder of enormous responsibility. Her strong will, integrity and selflessness when faced with life-threatening stakes has made her a source of inspiration for many. A refresh of the events in Part 1 are not supplied here – the story continues immediately – so it is recommended that you familiarise yourself before delving into the finale. Unfortunately, the over-attenuated Mockingjay Part 2 will likely serve as a satisfying resolution for die-hard fans of the novels, but for those who have enjoyed the films and are eagerly seeking closure, it possesses the same issues that plagued Part 1.
Having infiltrated the Capitol and rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and some of the other tortured victors, the rebels from the thirteen Districts unite for a final siege. A recovering, and emotionally unbalanced Katniss commits herself to being a key cog in the war; teaming up with friends including Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) as part of a super-team of rebel soldiers under the orders of President Coin (Julianne Moore) to shoot propaganda videos of the now-deserted, but still booby-trapped sections of the Capitol. Katniss’ secret agenda is to break away from the squad and assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But, torn between her affections for Gale and Peeta – dangerously unstable, but brought along to accelerate his psychological repair – she faces tough moral choices that could affect the lives of millions of people in Panem.
Katniss, from the beginning, has been committed to protecting those she loves. She volunteered for the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, and throughout the series she has risked her life for others. Her success in the arena have made her an idol within the oppressed people of Panem. She agrees to become a propaganda tool when she discovers that her home of District 12 has been destroyed by the Capitol. While the rebel leaders see an end to the struggle that could result in the loss of many innocent Capitol lives – a ploy that Gale supports – Katniss is determined to cut off the head, and not obliterate half of Panem in the war. Her sympathy for Peeta, unable to perceive the real from poison-induced hallucinations, and who may never return to how he once was, is evidence of her humanity. Her torn loyalties between childhood friend Gale, who has stood by her side through every step of the rebellion, and the long-imprisoned Peeta, have been one of the more complex elements of the franchise, but in this film that triangle becomes tiresome.
The pacing in this film is horrendous. After surviving one of the Capitol’s obstacles – a rather spectacular ocean of oil – and an mop-up assault from peacekeeping troops, the survivors sit around and watch the convenient TV broadcast updates of the war. They even show us exactly what just happened in case anyone nodded off. There are lengthy lulls where the characters discuss the morality of the mission, and Katniss attempts to help Peeta understand that he belongs on their side, but they start to feel familiar.
Josh Hutcherson is given little to do – and the fact that this special task force is laboured with a prisoner is outrageous – and Lawrence’s best work in the franchise is behind her. It is the veterans; Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks (along with Mockingjay addition Natalie Dormer), who have been the quiet heroes throughout the franchise, and they remain solid despite their involvement trimmed significantly here.
One of the film’s tent-pole highlights is a rather terrifying action sequence in the tunnels underground the Capitol. Genuinely violent and unnerving – warning, this isn’t a film for kids – the troupe are attached by Mutts (which resemble those creatures from The Descent), who prove to be a formidable opponent. F. Lawrence manages to capture the tension with an urgency that has been sorely missing since the games in Catching Fire. A hooded infiltration into the citizens of the Capitol, marching on President Snow’s sanctuary, is also spectacular and tense. There are also several character moments that were among my favourite in any of the films, as they make decisions that have significant weight, but the film’s twists would have been shocking if they weren’t so poorly disguised.
After the excellent second instalment Catching Fire I was committed to the franchise and cared for these characters. If The Hunger Games was a pleasant surprise, Catching Fire suggested that this was not just a promising franchise, but one that was in the right hands. But, at the end of all this I was barely paying attention. Mockingjay: Part 2 is a grim, cumbersome finale that slumps to the finish line with an unnecessary epilogue, and clear confusion on how to wrap up these stories. It has a few of the series trump cards, but serious pacing woes numb its substantial thematic weight, and its effectiveness as escapist entertainment.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer(s): Danny Strong, Peter Craig
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 137 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: November 19 2015