The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Review
Welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.
Although the flaws only further emphasise the fact that these last two parts could have been combined into one better whole, Mockingjay - Part 2 remains a fitting enough conclusion to a solid franchise.After The Hunger Games won over millions – although, in some ways, little more than a PG-13 Battle Royale, it pushed the boundaries of what we could expect from a Young Adult franchise – Catching Fire further expanded the rich universe and stoked the impending revolution. The decision to make the final instalment into two part (book-splitting has had almost universally poor results in everything from The Hobbit to Twilight), however, saw us burdened with an overly-padded, goes-nowhere PR exercise in Part 1, whose only significant elements played out in the final few moments of the film’s overlong runtime. Indeed, had an abridged version been used for Part 2's prologue, instead, we could have surely had one great single conclusion to an impressive trilogy, rather than a slightly indulgent final chapter in a bloated and flawed quadrilogy.Part 2 kicks straight off where Part 1 left off – that aforementioned significant bit being unavoidable spoiler territory for those who haven’t yet seen it (rent before watching this, or just wait and rent both). Peeta is still Katniss’s brainwashed would-be assassin, and no amount of reasoning appears to get through to him. Beyond securing the support (and arsenal) of the final, Capitol-dominated District 2, the main impetus comes from Katniss’s quest to seek very personal revenge against President Snow, once and for all, seeing his death as the singular catalyst for the end of the war, and the end of the death and suffering on both sides. Meanwhile, still regarding her as little more than a powerful political pawn, rebellion President Coin wants to ensure that Katniss symbolically furthers her cause at all cost, even if that may be better suited by martyrdom.
After the promise of all-out war at the end of Part 1, Part 2 suffers repeated delays within its first act, each accompanied by a dutiful moment of sorrowful reflection and strategic planning. It saps momentum, and further delays the inevitable. Even when it comes to raiding the Capitol itself, Katniss's revenge quest becomes strangled by political machinations, playing out with that same painful PR angle that plagued Part 1, here weakening the more interesting angle of her singular determination to assassinate Snow.
Of course it's all basically an excuse to get the old band together for one last gig, as they find the Capitol teeming with Hunger Games-like booby traps planted by the cold and ruthless Snow. It's here where we get our first - and thankfully not last - taste of much-needed tension (which previously came aplenty in the first two instalments, but was distinctly lacking in Part 1) as the elaborate traps start to cut into the team and you realise that, unlike in Part 1, this time people are actually going to die. The middle act of trap-navigating is certainly the strongest idea on offer here, marred only by a desire to 'stop and talk' far too often. Whilst some of this is designed to further develop the three-way-relationship between the estranged lovers, Katniss, Peeta and Gale, some is just unnecessary padding which feels like the holdover from making one story into two films. Unfortunately, it saps tension and momentum equally, and risks returning events to the tedium of Part 1.
Thankfully Part 2 ups its game in the final act, with an unexpectedly dark assault that wouldn't have felt out of place in Aliens, or a zombie flick.
Even the final twists, whilst perhaps not viscerally satisfying, provide a strong conclusion for the series, bringing closure to various characters who we've watched evolve across the franchise, and raising the stakes in a way that finally wields emotional heft, rather than just political subterfuge. It has far from a grand scale - considering the money that this franchise has made, it's surprising to see just how limited the feel is, with none of the epic thousand-man army battles you'd perhaps expect to finally see here - but that's just about forgiveable because at least that gives them more scope to focus on the characters.
Jennifer Lawrence is far stronger in this final chapter, reining in the whimsical melodramatics of Part 1 (not all her fault, again a product of diluting the story) in favour of a more driven - but still wounded - soul this time round and almost all of the key players (but for the late Hoffman, understandably, whose potentially best scene feels like it was reduced to a letter being read out) get a final moment of glory in one form or another, fleshing out their respective characters in a way that was arguably forgotten about in the last instalment.
Mockingjay - as a whole - is bloated, undercooked and rife with missed opportunities, but still delivers a decent enough conclusion.
Does Mockingjay - Part 2 make up for Part 1? No, not really, only serving to emphasise the problems with its construction, and the flawed thinking behind padding this tale out (those dollar signs are great, but they ruin potentially far more memorable movies - nobody places the Hobbit trilogy alongside the original Lord of the Rings, and many argue it only devalued it). Certainly a more refined, streamlined third movie to conclude this trilogy - with no wasted footage - might have made the prospect of returning to this universe (as has been teased by the Studios, who are keen on doing a Harry Potter with this franchise) a stronger cause to celebrate.
Part 2 does, however, still provide much of what was missing from the first part of the story - the thrills and the tension; the character depth and the character deaths - and does provide a reasonably fitting conclusion to this saga, which is a tough enough ask after the damage already done in the last instalment. And if you've made it this far in the Games, you'll want to get to the end.
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