One of the most surprising things about The Hunger Games series is how good it’s been. The films, adapted from the Suzanne Collins novels of the same name, have elevated the source material into one of the better science fiction series in recent years. While the books got worse as they continued, the films have only gotten better. I found the Mockingjay novel a boring, poorly paced divorce from the earlier books which rushes into an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. Last year’s Mockingjay Part 1 took the slow, boring and ultimately pointless first half of the novel and turned it into a clever examination on the role of propaganda in war. It was a great film, and by dividing the book in two, it promised that the finale would be full of action as the war against the capital comes to a head.
Mockingjay Part 2, unfortunately fails to live up to the promise of the films before it. To its detriment, the movie chooses to stick closely to its source material and the problems with that book’s pacing and narrative decisions finally rear their ugly head. The result is an unsatisfying conclusion to a truly great series.
Part 2 picks up right where the last film left off, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) recovering from her attempted murder by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Right away, we see that the high stakes action promised by dividing the book in two will not be delivered on, as the movie starts with another 45 minutes of people talking. I’d normally be ok with this. After all, I enjoyed all of it in Part 1. But for some reason this film positions our main character to be a completely passive participant in the events unfolding around her.
Throughout the Hunger Games series Katniss has been a consummate badass, taking every punch that’s thrown at her and finding a way to assert her will against a system that is trying to control her. In this final movie, though, we see a broken Katniss who has given up and become resigned to her fate. She’s completely passive throughout the film, basically just along for the ride. The majority of the film is people sitting down and telling Katniss how it’s going to be. Occasionally, she goes against the plans, but these moments are always sandwiched between parts where Katniss sits there, emotionless.
The middle of the movie, in which our main characters finally invade the capital, is the highlight of the film. There are several great action set pieces that are are exciting and well executed. As our characters make their way through the city, they encounter ‘pods’ equipped with dangerous traps left by sadistic gamemakers. These moments provide us with great callbacks to Hunger Games of previous films. The Capital isn’t just interested in killing people; it wants to torture them as much as possible. Even here at the end, it’s still a game to President Snow. Unfortunately, these great scenes are interspersed with more scenes of people talking. Instead of a fast-paced build to a dramatic ending, this invasion is staged over several days with multiple rest stops each time. This structure kills the pacing as we have to again watch more people talking. This time, it’s Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) arguing over which of them gets to be with Katniss.
It’s this love triangle that I think becomes the downfall of this film, and possibly the entire series. In the previous movies the contest between Peeta and Gale for Katniss’ affection was present, but mostly just background noise. In Mockingjay Part 2, however, the love triangle is brought to the foreground in a lame effort to wrap the whole thing up. There are a few problems with this, the first being the complete lack of chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. I’m not sure who to blame for this, as I think both are skilled actors who give good performances here, but you don’t buy their on-screen relationship one bit. It’s been this way from the beginning, but the previous films used this. The relationship between them was fake, a ploy to win public support in the games, so it made sense that it came off as artificial. Here, it reads just as fake; except it’s not supposed to.
But what’s worse is that by boiling down Katniss’ central conflict into a “which one will she choose?” situation, the film wrecks another pillar of what made the character so great. The Katniss of the previous films didn’t need either Peeta or Gale. That character was fine on her own; protecting her and hers without anyone’s help and according to her own plans. That Katniss would not have chosen either of these guys, and she certainly would not have tolerated both of the sitting in the middle of a warzone discussing which one she’ll pick.
The weakness of the interaction between these central characters especially hurts a film that has sidelined much of the supporting cast. Whether by unfortunate circumstance in the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman or narrative choice in Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks’, these great characters are relegated to nothing more than cameo performances. A real highlight is Jena Malone as Johanna Mason. Malone is barely in the film, but lights up the screen in every scene. I would love to see her more in this film, but because it’s leaning so heavily on the source material, Mockingjay Part 2, simply doesn’t have time for her. Another unfortunate casualty of the sub-par novel.
The Hunger Games series is an anomaly. It’s a billion dollar young adult franchise with a female lead character that tackles important social issues. The series is a commentary on our reality TV -obsessed culture that pits people against each other for our entertainment. It is a commentary on the decadence of the 1%, their methods of control, and the effectiveness of propaganda. It’s smart, insightful, and entertaining as hell. It is all these things despite the failings of its final chapter. Mockingjay Part 2 isn’t that good, but it isn’t terrible either and it is elevated by the truly great movies that came before it. I believe that even with a disappointing conclusion the series as a whole will be remembered fondly as one of the best original science fiction stories of the early 21st century.