The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 **

A joyless, unemotional finale to a series that, until now, had featured strong performances, biting commentary, and unique action beats.

Is it worth $10? No

With “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” comes not only a lot of extra punctuation, but the end of one of the YA franchises that had filled the void left by “The Twilight Saga.” What had started as a fresh and horrifying depiction of a dystopian future that pitted children against children in a battle of survival in “The Hunger Games” has ended with an emotionally manipulating final act that maintained the same careless abandon for human life except void of any pathos.

Just as last year’s “Mockingjay Part 1” felt like a drawn out look at how to make war propaganda, “Part 2” continues to stretch the story (and the actors’ ability to care) nearly to its breaking points, yet somehow seeming to gloss over the parts of the story that could do with more screen time. Instead, we get a rehash of the last film, repeated conversations about duty, symbols, and just how badly Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) wants to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and a lot of shell-shocked emotionless brooding by Lawrence’s protagonist.

After the last film depicted a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) choking his former ally and lover Katniss, this film opens with a battered Katniss trying to make sense of what has happened. Seemingly broken by Peeta’s condition, Katniss agrees to do anything resistance leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) asks of her which, perhaps unsurprisingly, means shooting more commercials. Commercials are filmed at a mine, where Katniss is wounded again. Commercials are filmed in District 2, where traps are set and Katniss is injured again. But as the team of filmmakers/warriors head closer and closer to the Capitol building it becomes less about propaganda and more about learning the truth and simply surviving.

The scenes throughout the Capitol involving the various traps are strong but few and far between. In particular, a scene in the sewers of the city manages to illicit enough edge-of-your-seat suspense to make you realize that you actually do care for some of the characters. Other scenes are so drawn-out and bleak that viewers may elect to volunteer as tribute instead of subject themselves to the depression. Granted, this is a movie about war so prospects are not to appear lively, but that does not mean the entire film needs to be filmed in a way that removes any life from the settings and characters. Instead, everything seems mechanical, including many of the characters, voiding them of any relatable qualities. Bad things continue to happen, but there is little grief, lots of action but little reaction, and, worst of all, no catharsis, no reprieve. In color, tone, and content, this is a dark, depressing film.

That said, not all performances are wooden. Hutcherson, for example, makes Peeta’s ongoing recovery a poignant example of what the Capitol has done to deserve the level of hatred directed toward it. However, the writers never allow his character to grow much past asking over and over to simply be put to death. Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and Natalie Dormer also add humanizing touches of humor, wit, and strength in roles that are peripheral but important. Elden Henson as the mute Pollux is the true stand-out this time, bringing a true weight to his role that is appropriate given the circumstances. Lawrence, on the other hand, hardly allows any emotion to come through for her character, overplaying the shell-shocked nature of someone who survived two Hunger Games, countless deaths, multiple attempts on her life, and a constant responsibility to be a symbol for freedom. As a result, her performance is incredibly stiff and lifeless, offering no character growth from start to finish, and lacking in the strength that made her character a standout heroine and role model in the other entries. Other standout players from the previous entries are also sidelined and watered-down such as Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks’s Effie, and Stanley Tucci’s Caesar.

The biggest crime committed by the film, however, is the handling of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, game maker Plutarch Heavensbee. While present throughout the film in scenes filmed prior to his passing, he has nothing much to do but nod in agreement with Julianne Moore’s President Coin. Unfortunately, the scene in which he is needed the most, when the true design of Katniss’ role in the Hunger Games is revealed, Hoffman was not there. Instead, what would have been his character’s shining moment, validating his involvement in the resistance and the Hunger Games in general, was presented in letter form, read with little emotion and a bit of snide sarcasm by Harrelson. While the passing of an actor is hard for everyone involved, it does present a great challenge for the filmmakers. They could rewrite, reshoot, apply digital trickery, use stock footage, any number of tricks. Here it seems they opted for the quickest, cheapest (not just in the financial sense) route. The speech would have been a pivotal part of not just this film, but the whole franchise, and of Plutarch’s character.

Ultimately, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is a disappointing end to a strong franchise. Stiff performances, lazy filmmaking, and uneven pacing make this film a chore to get through. A handful of standout characters fail to heighten the emotional stakes of what could have been a powerhouse finale.

Josh Walbert is an entertainment guru with a passion for film and television. He lives south of Orlando, FL, with his girlfriend, and relatively extensive DVD/Blu-Ray collection.

Cron Job Starts