Well, that’s settled. Finally, the world can rejoice with the concluding chapter in the Hunger Games trilogy tetralogy—rejoice because it’s over. Thank God I’ll never have to hear the names Peeta or Gale ever again.
Mockingjay Part 2—the completely unnecessary second part to a movie that should have been a single film—picks up immediately where Part 1 left off—lending more credence to the fact that the film should have been a single piece. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been brainwashed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and made an attempt on Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) life. Katniss has a mind for revenge and is hell-bent on going to the Capital to murder Snow. Meanwhile, the Resistance, led by President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is only interested in using Katniss as a propaganda figure. Even when she escapes District 13 to the front lines, she is intercepted by her allies and assigned to a military unit in name only that will only be shown on propaganda videos and not doing any real fighting. Unfortunately, President Snow has hired the most efficient contractors in the history of mankind and turned the Capital City into a giant games arena for the advancing rebels. Welcome to the Hunger Games!
I’m going to be dead honest—I did not enjoy this film nearly as much as I hoped I would after the setup and world-building of Part 1. The production values are great and there is one really good and creepy action scene, but the rest is a fairly predictable bore. Mockingjay 2 feels every minute of its ridiculous runtime. Breaking the film into two parts was a major mistake. I liked the last one, but I didn’t like it so much that I wanted to watch it again. Because there’s no recap or anything at the start of this one, all the setup of all the new characters is lost. Coin is barely in this film and her character would have had a bigger impact if we’d seen her complete arc in just one film.
I guess to begin to understand my myriad of issues with this film, you have to start at the top with Katniss Everdeen herself. Katniss as a character has gotten progressively more unlikable with each film. I understand that Katniss is traumatized from not only her time in the Games, but also fighting in a civil war, but what I didn’t get was her persistent death wish and her obsession with being a martyr. In the earlier films, Katniss was the strong female character that readers and filmgoers believe her to be. However, as Mockingjay unspools, she has become not much more than a drama queen. Everything is her fault and she’s none too shy about telling people about it. There’s a point in this film where she admits to lying to her allies about having a secret mission so that she can get closer to Snow. Because her comrades came with her, she feels responsible for everything bad that happens to them. The problem with this logic, though, is that her allies clearly knew she was lying from the jump, so much so that Cressida (Natalie Dormer) backs up Katniss’ lie even though they’d had no previous discussion about it. This particular plot hole and blind spot for Katniss makes the entire scene laughable. The filmmakers on all the films did a fine job of getting the narrative out of Katniss’ head like it was in the novels and showing more of the world around her, but I think Mockingjay 2 would have benefitted from a little more insight into Katniss’ thinking. Now that she has been reduced to a propaganda soundbite, why is it so important that she be the one to kill President Snow? What makes her so special? The answer, of course, is nothing—or at least not as it is presented in the film. Katniss’ obsession with martyrdom destroys the strong and capable character that had been established over the story and reduces her to a childish little girl. The argument that Katniss is a strong female role model isn’t helped by the fact that aside from Snow, her biggest problem that looms over her is still the matter of which boy she will choose—Peeta or Gale (Liam Hemsworth). This has to be the most boring love triangle in all of fiction—I can’t be sure since I never read the Twilight books—and it reduces what could have been a great science fiction epic to just YA fluff. The two male characters are dull and Katniss would have been a much better character if she’d just said, “I choose neither.” The movie is sprinkled with scenes of her silently agonizing over these two dopes while the two of them try to figure out who she’ll choose. Um, there’s a war going on here, people!
However, just because there’s a war going on doesn’t mean no one can smile in this thing—well, anyone besides President Snow, I guess, he’s always cackling. The film’s self-important and over-serious tone got old fast. The only character with any personality on Katniss’ side is Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), but he’s mostly on the sidelines. Everyone else is a self-serious drone boring the hell out of the audience. There are films about real wars that at least have some levity in them. The whole thing came off as overly pretentious and unintentionally humorous.
While a little more understanding of Katniss’ thinking would have helped, we’re still so detached from the Resistance’s leadership that I couldn’t have cared less when they (spoiler alert) win the war. I just didn’t care. The whole Resistance seemed to just spring up from under the earth at the end of the second film and by Mockingjay 2, they’re ready to overthrow the totalitarian government. It feels really rushed even though this film in particular was a slog. I think the issue is in the way that Katniss is used in the story. Once she’s cast as just a mouthpiece for the Resistance, she becomes an infinitely less interesting character, but the filmmakers want to stay true to the books, so they lose focus on the more interesting story—the Resistance—in order to focus on Katniss trying to find her place in all the killing.
The best part of this film is Donald Sutherland, hands down. He has such a great time as the mustache-twirling Snow. You can really see him relishing this part. In the past, I have praised Jennifer Lawrence for burying her natural charisma to portray Katniss’ self-seriousness, but in Mockingjay 2, she really looks like she just wants to be done with the whole thing. It was nice to see Hoffman one last time and Harrelson has some great lines as Haymitch. The rest of the cast is fine, but these are the clear standouts. Julianne Moore does a good job, but the twist involving her character could be seen coming in Part 1, so a lot of the suspense and drama is blunted.
Overall, while I enjoyed the set up in Mockingjay 1, the payoff falls far short of satisfying in Part 2. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be overwrought. I think the problem may stem from the books being 100% in Katniss’ head and the films trying to present a broader picture, but at the same time, wanting to be faithful to the source material. There’s a disconnect. I think we needed a scene or two of what was going on in Katniss’ head for this final film. Her desire to be a martyr got old after a while. She wasn’t the only one with an axe to grind with Snow, but she made it feel like the entire war was all about her. The whole thing just left me tired and burned out at the end. There was no real catharsis with how the film ended. In the end, I just didn’t care about Katniss either. She has such a death wish that I was ready to yell at the screen, “Die already!” Just a real disappointment from a series that started with such promise.