By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Die hard fans of the Hunger Games will most likely appreciate Mockingjay Part 2 more in this finale than the casual movie-goer who has not read the books. For this trilogy which got its last novel split into two films, the bigger question cinema enthusiasts will ask is the wait worth it? Each volume has enough content (380 pages on average) to fill one film. When looking at how much material that’s presented from each tome per film, most likely not. When considering the plot in the book to what’s adapted for the theatrical version, there’s plenty of expanded and changed material to look at.
In this latest movie, the screenplay credit goes to Peter Craig, Danny Strong and Suzanne Collins (original author). Although the product has Collins seal of approval, maybe she’s falling into the trap of how most expanded trilogy films must flow.
Ever since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the move into having the concluding film explore darker themes and subject has become the norm. With Lord of the Rings, Frodo believes that the mission is his alone. The theatrical version of The Hobbit looks at how the dwarves succumb to a sickness that has them wanting to protect their citadel of gold as the Battle of the Five Armies takes place at their front doors. In each of these films, the protagonist has to make the symbolic trip underground to complete his or her hero’s journey. Whether that’s to lose all those ghosts of the past to feel stronger afterwards, the tropes are there. It makes for a universal story that sadly has no identity of its own, and that’s where some film adaptations of books fail.
When the author is involved in the production of this adaptation, she could have insisted that the screenwriters work towards a different direction while still remaining faithful to her work.
For Mockingjay Part 2, the tale presented is only part of a whole. It’s best to go into this film with full recall of Part 1 and the mythology that’s evolved about this bird. On a mechanical level, the first act drags. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is reeling from the effects, the cliffhanger, from the last film. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) attacked and proclaimed her a monster. She’s trying to comprehend what happened to one of her suitors — her feelings for Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) are never fully realized and he literally gets dragged away never to be thought of again — and much of this segment is spent getting anyone with poor long-term memories up to speed with the overall story arc. The romance is gone. Had this final story been one film, the 30 mins wasted could have been reduced to 10.
Katniss still has some of that doe-eyed innocence and naïvety from the previous films. Although she knows her place as a Joan of Arc figure, there’s still aspects of her that reveal she’s uncertain about her role in the revolution that’s going on. She’s a pawn in the power game taking place between Alma Coin (sweetly played by Julianne Moore) and Coriolanus Snow (connivingly portrayed by Donald Sutherland). In what this last movie slowly reveals is in how democracy is entering the nation of Panem. To compare this film to Lord of the Rings, Katniss is entering Mordor not to melt a piece of jewellery but to fire an arrow through the heart of the beast — Snow.
She will have to travel through a booby-trapped capital to get him. This “76th Hunger Game” is the meat of the film and it’s exciting to watch. The new traps are given a feel that’s reminiscent of what the vets talked about in their experiences during the Vietnam War. Just how Katniss’ platoon deals with their latest mission requires travelling high and low, including heading underground to navigate tunnels and leaping out at the right time. This moment deep beneath the city sewers mirrors many horror movies, like The Descent. This tribute feels unneeded and the fight with the “tunnel rats” played out for far too long. This whole segment could have benefited from being trimmed down because the point of escaping is to flee out of there as fast as you can, and not take down every single beast that leaps in your way!
In between all the action are some well-intentioned character development, and the climax that’s to come takes far too long to get there. Watching this movie was like watching Lord of the Rings all over again — there’s epilogues upon epilogues. Viewers familiar with the books will know that this narrative is important to reveal how the world will recover. However, there will be more problems ahead before a true democracy can begin. While Katniss is a nice role model to look up to, her story is done.
We don’t need more Hunger Games material. Lionsgate is looking at how to continue this franchise and they want this mighty bird to continue flying high. But like any arrow launched, it must hit fall to the ground eventually.
3 Stars out of 5