Tuesday, December 15, 2015

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2' review

Remember when you were excited for The Hunger Games?

I was 13 when the first Hunger Games came out a few years ago. I read all of the books in the series. I was genuinely, truly excited to see that movie. There was a sense surrounding that movie that made it feel like an event. It felt special. And despite the fact that Catching Fire (the second installment in the series) was a better film, the magic of the original was never matched. Once Lionsgate decided to split the final installment into two films, the bubble around the series continued to deflate until it felt like I was obligated to watch these movies, despite not caring anymore. Now, we've reached the finale- Mockingjay- Part 2. Sadly, it's the worst film out of the whole bunch, a poorly paced, moody, overdramatic and unintentionally hysterical conclusion to a franchise that ran out of energy out of the gate. The source material isn't great to start with, but there's no denying that director Francis Lawrence and company dropped the ball here, playing up some of the novel's worst elements and avoiding anything that could have potentially been interesting or dramatic. Besides one truly invigorating sequence, there's nothing in Mockingjay- Part 2 that even approaches the heights of the series. It's a disappointing swan song for a franchise that went downhill too fast.


Picking up right where Part 1 left off, Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson) is back in District 13 after being extensively tortured in the Capitol under the watch of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). After being brutally assaulted by Peeta, her former love, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is ready to go after Snow with everything that the Districts can muster. District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Gamesmaker-turned-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) advise against it, but Katniss sneaks off into the war zone anyways. Along with military specialist Boggs (Mahershala Ali), propaganda expert Cressida, former Hunger Games victor Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), and Peeta himself, Katniss will plunge deep into the Capitol. Danger lies around every corner but after tragedy after tragedy, the true horror of Panem's war may strike Katniss in a way that she never expected.

I'm a Hunger Games fan. I read the books before I even knew that there would be film adaptations. And I thoroughly enjoyed both the first and second installments in the franchise. The Hunger Games is a strong bit of violent filmmaking, thrusting you into the world of its protagonist with intensity and verve. Catching Fire expands on that world, delving deeper into the politics of rebellion. While the franchises don't quite compare, in many ways, Catching Fire is the Empire Strikes Back of the Hunger Games series- complex, daring and more engaging on a character and story level. Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence brought those two novels to screen vividly and the films hold up today.

Mockingjay is problematic. The novel is an unnecessarily downbeat ending to a downbeat series, where practically nothing happens in the first half. And then by the time that the second half rolls around, the story has beaten you so far into submission that there's not much finality or satisfaction in the ending. Francis Lawrence had an uphill battle with the task of bringing Mockingjay to the screen, which was made worse by the fact that Lionsgate decided to split the novel into two films. Despite his best efforts, Lawrence's adaptation fails on every conceivable level. As a final, it's tremendously unsatisfying and as a movie, it's horrifically paced. Star Jennifer Lawrence (not related to the director) gives her all and there are a few obscenely good action scenes, but it's not enough to save this final installment from being a total disappointment.

As much as I want to blame the filmmakers for some of the problems that the film encounters, I really can't blame it all (or even any of it) on them. Mockingjay is a terrible book in every way. When I finished it, I pretty much wanted to chuck it across the room. It is downright depressing as a finale and for me, it almost undermines everything that the rest of the series did. Was there a way for Francis Lawrence and company to turn this into a good film? Or was it simply impossible to turn a bad book into a good movie?

The blame goes both ways. Author Suzanne Collins didn't give the crew behind this film much to work with, but they still could have made a better movie than this. Mockingjay- Part 2 alternates between drab and unintentionally laughable, settling for a non-stop barrage of quiet, inconsequential dialogue and needlessly over-the-top action sequences. Lawrence struggles to find a consistent tone and pace; the film moves in large jolts during some moments, while at other times, there's little to no movement whatsoever. The character arcs in Mockingjay- Part 2 are equally unsatisfactory, and despite what Collins and the filmmakers might say, I still feel like this is an incomplete story. Katniss' tale may be complete, but I don't think that the film earns her catharsis during its conclusion. It simply doesn't work as a movie.

With a film like this, tone is key and I can't really tell what the filmmakers had in mind for the tone of this installment. It's not a laugh riot, but there are so many moments where the film is just downright ludicrous. For example, there's a character named Tigris in this film. She's a Capitol hairdresser and she is literally a tiger. Like she looks like a tiger. This is where the filmmakers mistake loyalty to the source material with making a good movie. Tigris is absolutely laughable on screen. My audience couldn't stop laughing, making it clear that the character should have been altered or cut altogether. There's also a scene where J-Law just takes the intensity up so far that it becomes uproarious in a weird way. And the film's epilogue is equally bizarre and humorous, giving an eerie sense to the film's conclusion. Simply put, the cast and crew behind this film just didn't know when there was too much of something, and it really, really hurt the movie.

Nonetheless, there are a few elements that work magnificently. Jennifer Lawrence gives her absolute all to Katniss for the final time, demonstrating once again that she's one of the best actors on the planet. In addition, the supporting cast is rather good, led by veterans like Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and the always-brilliant Donald Sutherland. Finally, the most impressive aspect of the film is an extended action sequence set in the Capitol that features the use of terrifying CGI mutts. This is action filmmaking at its finest, raising the emotional and physical stakes to a breaking point. It's one of the few shining moments in the novel, and Lawrence found a way to make it pierce your heart and soul in the movie as well.

Despite a few instances that jolt the film to life, Mockingjay- Part 2 is still a huge slog to get through, ending an occasionally wonderful franchise with a whimper instead of a bang. For every great moment, there's a scene where Jennifer Lawrence is seen drooling on screen. And for every poignant emotional moment, there's a Tigris. The film starts well enough, but loses its footing rather quickly, resulting in a poorly constructed mess. Hunger Games, it was good while it lasted. But thanks for finally wrapping things up.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                                (5/10)


Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, The Guardian, Joblo

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