I didn’t have high hopes for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Apart from having heard mixed things about it, Mockingjay is my least favourite book of the trilogy, plus I felt Part 1 was a relative disappointment given the bar set by the first two entries. Bearing that in mind, the final film instalment turned out better than expected, superior to Part 1 but still a few grades behind The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
The biggest problem I had with it still stems from the fact that the final book was split into two films. It’s no secret I hate such greedy decisions, especially when the third book is, in my mind, the weakest and least action-packed of the lot. And yet, they somehow managed to base two movies on it, resulting in a whopping 260 minutes of screen time — 123 minutes (Part 1) + 137 minutes (Part 2).
I still believe they could have easily adapted Mockingjay into a 150-minute movie, or even a 165-minute movie, and the result would have been spectacular. It’s not hard to see where they could have trimmed the fat. The vast majority of Part 1 was pretty much all fat. I can’t even recall three significant plot points from that entire movie.
Similarly, the first part of Part 2 was a little slow for my liking, even though it picks up right at the cliffhanger Part 1 left off (the two films were actually shot simultaneously). For those who don’t remember, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has gone nuts, and Katniss the Mockingjay (Jennifer Lawrence) is still obsessing about killing the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), while Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continues to be the equivalent of Taylor Lautner from Twilight, and Woody Harrelson continues to look drunk. In the meantime, Julianne Moore’s President Coin continues to rally the rebels as they prepare for a final assault on the Capitol. Oh, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to look very much alive as head gamesmaker Plutarch thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
The star-studded cast of Oscar winners has always been one of the biggest strengths of the Hunger Games franchise, and in this final film they certainly don’t disappoint. As trite as some of the verbal confrontations are, these great actors manage to make them as dramatic and believable as they could have been.
Watching this film, however, I got the sense that it was made with more the hardcore fans in mind, as real time and effort was put into building the dynamics between the characters for maximum emotional impact. There is no shortage of long, lingering takes for those who want to savour every last second these characters appear on the big screen. That’s great for fanatics who are genuinely and emotionally invested in the story, but for casual viewers like me, who may have read the books but can’t remember much about them, all that shit is kinda boring.
The pace and excitement do pick up considerably as Katniss and her propaganda film making crew led wonderfully by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer make their final journey toward the centre of the Capitol, but there are a lot of things about this part of the movie that don’t make much sense if you think about it. The execution might be strong, but there’s no denying that the plotline is somewhat contrived and filled with a sense of inevitability. Maze Runner: Scorch Trials got ridiculed for following the typical “point A to Point B” template, so I don’t see why the Hunger Games should get a free pass.
Anyway, while the production itself is top notch as always, I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities. Some of the “big” moments could have been handled better — at times it was rushed, others were telegraphed miles in advance. Further, we also don’t get to see all the action because the entire film is based around Katniss’s point of view. So much of the climatic large-scale action I would have loved to have seen was only told to us after the fact or implied. I understand that’s how it was with the book too, but that’s an instance where I wouldn’t have minded had they deviated from the source material.
That said, the smaller-scale action scenes we ended up getting featured some excellent set pieces that were more thrilling and frightening than I had anticipated. It fits in well with the dark tones and melancholy draped over the entire movie. I actually quite liked how a major young adult franchise went for a realistic and bittersweet note in its finale rather than the typical sentimental and uplifting one, and I even found myself a little moved by the end of it all.
Ultimately, Mockingjay – Part 2 is a mixed bag. I had no problem with all the “character development” sequences that ate up much of the screen time, though I couldn’t help feel that there were too many superfluous scenes and moments that just dragged on a few seconds too long. It may be a speckle of shit here and speckle of shit there, but eventually the shit adds up. I will admit that I liked the film a lot more by the end of it than at about the halfway mark. If I had cared more about the story and characters I might have not minded the “shitty” bits as much, but either way I still think Mockingjay – Part 2 could have been a lot better.
3.5 stars out of 5