With the final installment of The Hunger Games hitting screens today, we see the end of another young adult novel franchise and arguably the best series of movies to stem from this genre. This isn’t to say I think it’s a great bunch of films because Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the battle for Panem never really did all that much to impress me. There were definitely some bright points but these four films came and went without having much of a lasting effect on me as a movie fan. That being said, I’m pretty positive it will land with fans of the books and movies.
It seems everyone has a different movie in the series that they like the most. The first film got the ball rolling but failed to be anything but a watered down Battle Royale with a political uprising message to me. Director Gary Ross had some interesting ideas in the scope of character introductions but the action sequences were terribly executed and there was some overall cheesiness that brings it down. It was still a successful start to the series leading into Catching Fire, which is the movie I enjoyed the most.
Bringing in I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence, the second film is a much more polished and stylish film. It brings forth more of the themes that would influence the direction of the last two films of the series and pushes the better characters of the story like Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks); and dropping some of the brutally dead weight like Lenny Kravitz, who gives a boring and lifeless performance. The film also introduces us to Plutarch Heavensbee, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final role, a pivotal part of the two part Mockingjay finale.
Let’s be frank about the first part of Mockingjay. Not a whole lot of action happens: it’s mostly set up and Katniss only fires one solitary arrow. Between each scene of our lead character crying and brooding in different locations, we get some smart political drama and an intriguing plotline of using the proclaimed Mockingjay Katniss’s popularity with the people of Panem to create propaganda ads: a blast attempt to unite the people against the common enemy, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. For some it may be a sleepy two hours, but it still sets the stage nicely for the finale.
The second half of Mockingjay starts right as the fight really starts against the Capitol. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has been rescued from the clutches of President Snow at the end of part one but has been brainwashed and conditioned to kill the woman he loves, Katniss, who’s uniting campaign has proved at least somewhat effective. Now it’s time to storm the city and take it back for the people; a movement spearheaded by President Coin (Julianne Moore), who resides in a save haven underground and may have her own dark intentions. To combat the attacking forces, Snow decides to get his gamemakers to turn the city into a Hunger Games style battleground.
Heading into this film, I’d read an interview with star Liam Hemsworth who plays Gale Hawthorne, one of the pieces of the main love triangle. He claimed that the film was the most action packed of the whole series, unrelenting in its pace. This could not be further from the truth as the film struggles to find a pace throughout. It feels like just when the plot starts putting its foot on the gas to accelerate it somehow finds another reason to pull back and settle down. This might become maddening to the viewers wanting to break free from the dialogue driven nature of the film.
The cast all seem to have a deep knowledge of their characters at this point and are very comfortable, though it works for some better than others. Jena Malone is probably the standout for me, with her outright jealousy and disdain of Katniss’s status infusing every line she delivers. Josh Hutcherson’s new developments as Peeta on the other hand fail to work as his new conditioning seems to come and go at only the moments it’s need in the film as a plot device. It also makes the love story very clumsy and awkward.
The most distracting thing about this whole film is definitely Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Being conscious that this is his final performance, as he died with only a week left in the shooting schedule, it suffers a bit like the Paul Walker pieces in Furious 7. At a certain point in the film Heavensbee’s character gets shuffled to the background of the film in some pretty noticeable head replacement and the last handful of his lines are delivered in the reading of a letter. Being one of my favorite actors of all time, it was not quite the send off I wanted for the Academy Award winner.
After a Lord of the Rings: Return of the King style ending where I tried to stand up at least twice to leave, thinking it was over, I still felt underwhelmed by the completed story. Things that were supposedly pivotal parts of the overall structure seemed completely moot, such as Katniss’s sister Prim (Willow Shields) who was all over the marketing for this film but ended up being completely forgotten for the most part of this entire series and the third act feels incredibly lackluster with a plot point that feels both false and preposterous in the light of all the events that preceded it.
As I stated before, the fans of this story are going to eat this one up, giving it the biggest box office this month, without question. As for myself, I side on giving in just above a middling grade. There was room for a better film but somewhere between the Suzanne Collins book, Francis Lawrence and the producers, the reigns were pulled a little too tight and everything comes of a little too clean for my tastes. I give Mockingjay Part 2 a three out of five.