WRITTEN REVIEW – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Peter Craig & Danny Strong
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore & Donald Sutherland
Music: James Newton Howard
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: November 20th 2015

In 2012, Lionsgate, who originally became famous for low-budget/high-grossing horror films, started to make a name for themselves in the young-adult market thanks to the incredible commercial success of “The Twilight Saga”. Despite their generally terrible quality, the franchise cemented Lionsgate as a key player in the blockbuster arena. But when that franchise was over, they followed it up with “The Hunger Games” to cater to the young-adult market by adapting the three-book series by Suzanne Collins.

But despite their box-office gross and record-setting box-office performance in America, “The Hunger Games” movies have been tepid. ‘The Hunger Games‘ is an average, toothless ‘Battle Royale‘ clone, ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘ literally had NOTHING happen for its 146 minute runtime and ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1‘ was a slow, inactive movie based off a book that has no business being split into two parts. But, with one movie left to go can this franchise finally achieve some sort of status? Have three sub-standard films added up to something exceptional? Or were the odds never in this movie’s favour to begin with?
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It’s the future and life sucks. Taking place immediately after the events of Part 1, Part 2 starts with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) trying to fix her friend Peeta (Hutcherson) who has been brainwashed by the Capitol. After assembling all 13 Districts together against the Capitol, Katniss and a group of soldiers and propaganda film-makers must fight their way to President Snow (Sutherland) and his stronghold/home in order to assassinate him. But between them and Snow are countless booby traps set up by the Capitol’s game-makers who plan to make sport of the rebellion’s deaths in the 76th Hunger Games.

The gold-standard for two-part adaptations remains ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & Part 2‘. Not only did J.K. Rowling’s final “Harry Potter” book deserve two films because of it’s sheer length and awkward structure, but Part 1 had numerous set-piece sequences and moments of character-growth whilst Part 2 acted as a feature-length 3rd act climax. The set-pieces and character-growth was sorely lacking in ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1‘ so as for Part 2…it doesn’t really work as a 3rd act climax because it’s sorely lacking in momentum, progress and action. As opposed to acting as a final, no-holds bar roller-coaster and culmination of everything in the series, ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2‘ is a start-stop, slow-burn of a movie.

While a slow-burn climax isn’t a bad thing in concept, when there’s absolutely nothing cooking then we have a problem.
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See, while the franchise may have the themes of war, war-propaganda, the media’s influence etc. the franchise (or the movie’s at least) don’t have anything to actually say about them. It just presents these concepts but doesn’t have anything in the form of commentary and in terms of what this franchise is trying to represent thematically, there’s absolutely zero sub-text or allegories other than “war is pretty bad”. It’s hugely disappointing because it feels like this franchise should be more relevant now than it was when the books first came out or when the movies started because of the increased media attention given to wars and the amount of entertainment and warfare we see on our TV/computer screens juxtaposing one another. So when it comes to presenting these concepts to a young-adult audience and making them aware of what’s going on in the world, it’s so disappointing that the creative team assembled seem to have no want or desire to say anything profound to them.

The creative team is here, the talent is on-board, the audience are clearly showing up to these films en masse. So why not actually say something to them?

As for the horrors of war and the loss of innocent life in the conflict, the movie guts its own chance to be profound by taking place entirely from Katniss’ perspective and her team are instructed to stay behind out of the way. They will do very little fighting, they won’t interact with the brunt of the opposition and don’t encounter a single civilian until nearly two hours in. Because of this haphazard narrative decision, not only is there hardly any action or war in this war movie but the audience are given zero context as to who is winning, losing, dying, surviving etc. during the assault on the Capitol. It’s kinda hard to invest in an on-screen battle when you’re not witness to any of it.

You get the sense that everyone involved creatively in this movie had a “It’s good enough” approach to putting it together. They’ve done the bare-minimum, they’ve shown up, did what they were paid to do with zero enthusiasm and emotion. Which suitably sums up this movie because with the exception of the last minute of the film, ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2‘ hits the same emotional note and never changes. It’s a dour, self-serious movie that doesn’t have a single funny-bone in its body and absolutely no levity to speak of other than unintentional humour (more on that later). Yes war sucks, this future world sucks and everyone is really sad and sucky but if there’s zero levity then there’s zero motivation for the main characters to continue to fight.
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If the world is so terrible, if no one even so much as cracks a smile, or tells a joke, or thinks of something positive then why fight for this future? If it’s so terrible then why even attempt to fix it? Other than the fact that the plot demands the main characters to, there isn’t a reason. This results in a movie that isn’t fun in any way. The movie’s not an enjoyable experience despite its blockbuster trappings. In what is meant to be the happiest moment in the movie we have the wedding of Finnick and Annie but even then no one is smiling other than the bride and groom. In the following scene where Katniss dances with her sister Prim she’s so pouty and serious. Why can’t anyone in this movie lighten the hell up?

This especially goes for Katniss Everdeen played by Jennifer Lawrence who spends most of this film just pouting through derelict streets with one-dimensional, cliché soldiers. Incidentally, of course the black guy dies first and of course a soldier dies within 5 minutes of the only piece of character development they’re given. There’s been a lot of talk about how Katniss is a great female lead character and how she’s an inspirational role-model as well as a great leader of the revolution…but that just ain’t the case. The issue with her character, the issue that’s ALWAYS been with her character, is that she hardly makes any decisions herself (she’s a puppet of District 13), she doesn’t discover anything (Johanna tells her how to get to the Capitol and President Snow gives her the info-dump near the end) and she almost always has to be told what to do (the unintentionally hilarious scene in the last movie where Haymitch tells Katniss that she’s at her most effective when no one tells her what to do before IMMEDIATELY telling her what to do next).
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You can count the moments where she works of her own initiative in this franchise, spanning 4 films lasting 9 hours on 1 hand. And even then you’d have fingers to spare. I really think that people’s admiration for this personality-free, dour-minded protagonist is the result of deflated expectations for female lead characters in the blockbuster arena.

It also doesn’t help that Katniss rants at Gail and others for their harsh military tactics and their supposed lack of morality despite (inadvertently) destroying a hospital in the last movie.

At this point, Jennifer Lawrence who is an incredible actor make no mistake, just looks bored of this franchise. And I don’t blame her. These films are boring as sin and she’s given so little to work with dramatically it’s no wonder she’s practically sleep-walking through this role. The only moment where she gets a big, showy, emotional scene is undercut by its context and staging which was so inappropriate that my screening erupted in laughter. The rest of the cast also feel rather dumb with them doing very little to stand-out in any way. Don’t get me wrong, none of them are bad and none of them give bad performances but these are easy pay-cheques for them as these character have very little depth and not much in terms of solid characteristics. This is mainly because the main focus is on the boring, completely lacking in investment, love-triangle as the cliché soldiers wait patiently in the background during the many…many…MANY resting-stops they take on their way to the Capitol.

Seriously, what should be a rushed, last-ditch effort to kill President Snow takes about 4 days because they stop at every other building to sleep. What the shit? Lazy gits.
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Incidentally, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s absence through most of this movie is noticeable. Obviously it’s none of the film-makers fault that he could only shoot half his scenes but you can tell when he was meant to be there, particularly towards the end.

As for the love-triangle that’s been built up between Katniss, Gail and Peeta, you can tell that the writers took the easy way out as they have Gail act completely out of character throughout most of the movie and act uncharacteristically mean-spirited and immoral JUST so it’s easier for Katniss to make the (wrong) choice she ultimately ends up making. It also doesn’t help that Peeta is such an incredibly dull and bland character that it was so much better when he spent his time as a mindless drone hell-bent on killing Katniss.

But in terms of the actors, I’m amazed that there wasn’t mass confusion on set because the movie only lasts as long as it does due to the fact that the last half of the movie is completely reliant of everyone acting completely out of character. Seriously, the actions that take place during the last 30 minutes of ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2‘ are done completely without rhyme or reason and only exist so the movie can have a cluttered, unsatisfying and disappointing conclusion and epilogue. It’s hard to talk about without getting into spoiler-territory but let’s just say that the actions that end the war segment of the movie make so little sense in terms of the motivation behind it and why the ones responsible didn’t just OPEN with that strategy.
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And then, what follows is the most disorienting jump-cut/scene-change that I’ve seen in recent memory. Honestly, when it happened I thought that a reel had been lost by the cinema-staff. It was so jarring, so lacking in context and I was so lost as to what was happening for the next 10 minutes. My screening was verbally communicating their confusion as to just where everyone was and it was a pretty poor display for what SHOULD be a mainstream blockbuster movie for a younger audience. And Katniss’ final decision in the movie probably worked in the book thanks to her inner-monologuing and explicit thought-process, but as it’s presented in the movie it’s nonsensical because Katniss (as far as the audience is aware) is uninformed and has no tangible reason or motivation for doing what she does. Then the movie ends giving no closure to pretty much everyone in the supporting cast except for Katniss because screw everyone else, including her family, right? I sure hope fans of this franchise aren’t invested in the supporting cast because no one gets a final scene or even a general sense of closure except for Katniss.

What is equally shameful is the 3-D conversion done on this lacklustre and moribund tent-pole movie. Seriously, I’m sure the prior 1,800 words will upset fans of this franchise, but I can’t imagine ANYONE defending this abhorrent conversion job. In terms of close-ups, the 3-D is fine. But if anyone or anything is further than 5 feet away from the camera, it becomes either a blurry mess or there are three of them. There was a scene where Peeta arrives and is brought in on a van. He steps out the back of the van and slowly makes his way towards the camera. When he stepped out of the vehicle, Peeta was a six-foot tall yellow mess of pixels who wasn’t even remotely identifiable and my screening errupted with “Who is that?” or “I can’t see.”. It’s the worst 3D big-screen experience since 2010’s ‘Clash of the Titans‘.

THIS, folks. THIS is the experience of watching ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2‘ in 3D.
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Incidentally, no it was not my cinema screen. The trailers that played in 3D before this movie were flawless in their conversion. This movie just has absolutely no business charging money being released in this state and, quite frankly, Lionsgate should be ashamed.

At least the movie looks good, for the most part. The CGI has always been a bit sketchy in this series, but the green-screen work is solid, the environments, while deliberately drab, do have personality, the make-up is strong and the costumes feel authentic. In terms of action, this movie is sorely lacking but there are two stand-out sequences; there’s an oil-trap which easily gets the best kill of the series and there’s an awesome underground sequence where the Lickers from “Resident Evil” attack the group. It’s such a well directed sequence and it’s clearly been inspired by the director’s own ‘I Am Legend‘ that is so well shot, directed and edited that I’m curious as to why such prowess didn’t extend to other sequences. Overall, it’s a good looking movie, but in no way, shape or form does it look like even half of the $150 million budget is up on the screen.
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Despite the prior 2,100 words of well-informed bashing, this is not a terrible movie (unless you see it in 3D). It’s not even the worst movie in the franchise as that honour goes to ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘ for its dubious honour have having literally nothing happen for almost two and a half hours. The movie is terrible in some facets and just tired and mediocre in most. Whatever creative spark inspired these people to work on this series in the first place has clearly fizzled as there’s zero passion left in this series and the slow-drawn out pace never justified splitting up Suzanne Collins’ final book into two movies. In fact, since nothing happens in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘ you could easily have told this three-book series in two movies, but that’s besides the point. Even the titular Mockingjay herself, Jennifer Lawrence, has clearly grown tired of being here and would rather be doing other things. Can’t say I blame her.

If “The Twilight Saga” was a 1/5 franchise, “The Hunger Games” is a slight improvement as it’s a 2/5 franchise. At least Lionsgate are getting better. At this rate, “The Divergent Series” will be a 3/5 when all is said and done.

I give ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2‘ 2 stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 23rd Nov 15

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