First things first, how does a feline get or stay so fat in such testing times of strife without an owner – asking for a friend. The adaptation of the Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy climaxed with the Francis Lawrence helmed MockingJay 2. Was the decision to split the final book into two films justified? The answer appears to be no. The splitting of the final book means the final film in one of the standout young adult franchise films is running on fumes tempering out with a whimper.
MockingJay 2 picks up where its predecessor left off with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) nursing injuries inflicted upon her by the recently rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who had been brainwashed. The rebel forces, led by Julianne Moore’s Alma Coin, are prepping for a potentially decisive incursion against the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who appears to have lost a chunk of the vile ominous vibe he projected in the previous films. It is however Alma Coin who starts to project a shady vibe as the onset of absolute power appears to corrupt her. There truly isn’t much of a story here – almost like the final entry into the Hobbit series of films which was stuffed with action, CGI and more action.
At the core of Katniss’ character is a desire to be much more that a symbol as the film builds on the media propaganda narrative from the first film. She wants to do much more than just be a propaganda tool and a symbol of inspiration wielded by Coin. She wants to actually affect this war and sets out to assassinate President Snow with a contingent, including the still unstable Peeta, at her side as they traverse battlefields rigged with over-the-top booby traps aligning this film with a level based video game. Jennifer Lawrence has taken this role very seriously over the years and she projects an effectively nuanced air of resilience and vulnerability but I think it gets old here. Four films with this character is one too many. She is almost turning into a superhero here and this numbs us to the humanity we used to connect to.
Mocking Jay 2 is probably the one film in the series that suffers from being saddled with a PG 13 rating and this is especially problematic since its source material has been described as the darkest book in the series. Director Francis Lawrence cannot effectively workaround his rating limitations and we get a lot of expository telling and very little showing of the supposed horrors and collateral damage. This downplays the attempts at projecting a moral dilemma as lines of engagement blur up. There are also unsuccessful attempts to infuse the visceral intensity of the first two films and it doesn’t help that Francis Lawrence doesn’t really handle the camera well especially during the intense and seemingly distressing action sequences.
Consider the time spent in the sewers as the film progresses. Katniss and her compatriots have descended into sewers as they close in on Snow’s mansion. Things get creepy and tense and before long they are being pursued by creatures engineered by the Capitols scientists called mutts – a kind of cross between a rabid zombie and an “Alien”. He employs a lot of handheld shots that are deliberately shaky or just clumsily handled. Either way this, coupled with the subpar editing, means we are not really clear who is where and what’s happening. Discernment of time and space is near nil. I dare say the director cared little for the characters involved in some of these sequences because people do die here but they are almost faceless.
This film is trying to say something about the cycle of oppression and it clumsily doubles down on the ideas around wartime media and propaganda but again there is too much telling and very little showing. We have here a quite unsatisfying conclusion the Hunger Games trilogy but fans should not forget the highs set in the first two films. Fans should not forget what a terrific franchise player Jennifer Lawrence has been. Fans should not forget how far ahead the Hunger Games trilogy is in the post-apocalyptic young adult franchise adaptation race.
It just hurts me knowing that this story would have been infinitely better as ONE compact adaptation as we miss out on a solid conclusion. The characters resonate more with a single adaptation, the play on media propaganda carries more poignancy, the question of didactics can be adequately fleshed out and film doesn’t suffer from pacing issues that create a real disconnect in the mind of audiences. At Mockingjay 2’s denouement, revolving around Katniss, affairs feel strangely empty and ponderous, almost like we never knew her – probably the worst feeling this film left me with.