“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” Burns Like a Peat Fire

Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Francis Lawrence, 2015)

It has now long become de rigueur to take successful book series and prolong their cash-cow (or golden-goose … pick your animal metaphor) cinematic adaptations by splitting the final volume into two movies (to say nothing of Peter Jackson’s slicing and dicing of the slim Hobbit into three movies): this process began with Harry Potter, continued with Twilight, is perpetuated with the Hunger Games, and will no doubt live on with the next installment of the Divergent series. There’s nothing wrong with Hollywood wishing to make money; after all, movies are expensive to make, and there’s nothing like pre-awareness to bring the audiences to the megaplex. Unfortunately, though, if their raison d’être is purely mercenary, then it’s unlikely that these films will possess the dynamic narrative drive needed to sustain tales of derring-do and adventure. It is no surprise, therefore, that the latest (and, we hope, final) installment in the Hunger Games series is mired in bog and bloat. That is not to say, however, that there are not strong passages within. But at 137 minutes, this is not a lean machine (though, dark in tone as it is, it sure is mean).

Do you remember how the last film ended? If not, I recommend you bone up – if you care – by watching it again or reading a plot summary, as Mockingjay – Part 2 begins in medias res, expecting us to know what just happened … last year. Here’s a friendly reminder: Peeta Mellark, brainwashed by the Capitol, tried to kill the erstwhile love of his life, Katniss Everdeen, by strangulation. Peeta has been played by Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right), since the series began, with an appealing combination of vulnerability and resolve. Katniss is played, of course, by Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), also with vulnerability and resolve (and arrows). After surviving a series of unspeakable ordeals – including participating in winner-kills-all games for the entertainment of the country’s elite – Katniss and Peeta are ready, with the same faithful companions of the previous films, to take the fight all the way to President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Pride & Prejudice, consistently one of the best parts of these films). Much blood will be shed, but freedom comes at a cost.

What I liked about the previous installment – Mockingjay – Part 1 – was how the filmmakers played with the idea of film-as-propaganda to both market their movie and draw attention to those very marketing techniques. The same logos that we saw on the posters and trailers in our (real) world were used on the rebels’ own “propos” (promotional trailers for the resistance) in the world of the film. In a franchise that had shown real fire and energy in its second entry (appropriately entitled Catching Fire) after a dismal start, but was already showing signs of fatigue within the first hour of its third segment, this clever self-reflexive device made the enterprise more bearable. In Part 2, it would be nice to see that idea advanced in some new direction. Instead, it’s just more of the same.

Individual set pieces entertain and thrill – I particularly enjoyed a sequence with a flood of oily water that hardens into blade-like shapes when touched – but there’s no sense of urgency to the overall mix, in spite of repeated claims to the contrary by the characters. Visually, there’s very little new, as well: I sighed when the “mutts” (hybrid human-canine creations) appeared, only to look like a cross between the alien of Alien and the zombies of, well, everything since 28 Days Later. And then there’s the fact that the movie refused to end. True, the final (weakest) book offered multiple conclusions, as well, but over only a few pages; here, we get at least 15 minutes of false resolutions, including one not in the original text that led to groans amongst the audience of the screening I attended. By no means is this a terrible film; there is far worse out there, franchise-wise (Fantastic Four, anyone?). It is not, however, particularly good, though I suspect that fans of the series will, overall, have little to complain about. “The fire will burn forever,” reads the tagline. Perhaps, but remember that peat fires burn the longest of any, to no great result.