Whatever you might say about Suzanne Collins’ terribly average prose, the story and badass heroine she created makes for a cracking good tale. The first film of the series was good, Catching Fire was brilliant, then Hollywood continued its milking every cash cow to death by splitting the last book into two parts. This was always going to be problematic. Not only is Mockingjay generally considered the weakest of the novels, most of the action occurs in the second half. Part 1 did admirably well, building a slow, emotionally and politically powerful tale. But Part 2 does not fare as well, giving us a plodding, confused, lackluster end to a generally terrific dystopian film series.
Tonight, turn your weapons to the Capitol!
The war continues as the rebellion’s momentum builds. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) recovers from Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) attempt on her life and finds a new passion for making President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pay. As Peeta works on his recovery, Katniss films more ‘propos’ to gather supporters to the cause.
President Coin (Julianne Moore) is determined to keep Katniss from the front lines, but Katniss has other ideas. Hitchhiking a ride in a medical supply vehicle, Katniss arrives where the action is and joins Gale’s (Liam Hemsworth) unit. They follow after the main rebel force, but find plenty of action on their own with Katniss’ personal film crew and a mentally disturbed Peeta.
Katniss begins to wonder whose game it really is and who is the real power she needs to destroy.
I’ve been watching you… and you watching me.
There’s no denying that The Hunger Games film franchise is blessed with a fantastic cast. Even the supporting cast members are amazingly talented actors, such as Michelle Forbes, Gwendoline Christie, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman (and so many more). Each of them delivers a strong performance despite the lack of meat behind some of the clunkier pieces of dialogue. But no amount of talent amongst the actors can save the messy plot and lack of momentum limping us toward the finale.
Part of what works in the first two films is the cutthroat approach to the violence – where Katniss and the audience are both questioning who they can and can’t trust. This is completely lost in Mockingjay Part 2. The enemy is known and obvious, with legitimate reasons for the rebels to be fighting. They try to elaborate on the civilian issue to get some of that sense of questioning right or wrong but it doesn’t work nearly as well. None of the extras amongst Katniss’ unit are given any character development, leaving us feeling absolutely nothing when Snow’s evil ‘pods’ get the better of them. Sure, it is tough to make a threat level enough in a film where everyone knows the protagonist will survive – but it is doable. They just didn’t manage it here.
This lack of characterization and depth applies across the film, with little motivation given to many of the characters on why they do what they do. There’s a certain amount we are willing to forgive as an audience already thoroughly invested in the story, but the film asks us to forgive an awful lot. For instance, the lack of development shown for Peeta’s recovery makes Coin’s decision to send him to the front entirely bizarre. And without insight into Katniss’ mind, her decision at the execution might lose impact for those who haven’t read the books.
You love me. Real or not real?
Perhaps I may have had a different reaction to the film if I had not read the book first. I was disappointed with each piece they missed out or changed completely, especially when it lessened the emotional impact of the overall narrative. For the most part, a sense of growth and personal struggle for many of the characters is lost in the race to the battlefield, missing out much of Peeta’s gradual recovery (it feels more like he’s sick, then suddenly mostly ok) and the training Joanna and Katniss go through before being made soldiers.
Most disappointing of all is the undercooked relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Much of the ‘Real or not real’ game is cut, with only a brief nod to his recovery on that front. It lacks the bonding or the emotional reconnecting that is so strong in the novel. There are obvious difficulties in adapting a first-person narrative into a satisfactory film without the character’s inner monologue but by missing out that aspect of the epilogue we end up with a very twee ending. If only we’d been given a few shots of children playing in a field with a voiceover from Katniss instead it may have had more emotional impact. Instead, her internal struggle is completely skipped over and her choice of Peeta never feels quite real (and come on, where was the big kiss? The sex?! Am I the only one who wanted a bit of hanky panky for them?!).
Verdict: A messy, oddly paced ending to an otherwise fantastic film franchise. Disappointing script despite the solid performances of a brilliant cast.