The least ‘Hunger Games’ of the ‘Hunger Games’ Franchise
After 7 years it is time to say goodbye to Katniss Everdeen and the dystopian post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. Suzanne Collins mega-success trilogy was given what shall hereby be known as ‘The Harry Potter Treatment’ and had its final book split into two films *cough for more money cough*. How successful that decision actually was will divide audiences. Part two picks up straight after part one, literally straight after, with Katniss awakening from her reunion/fight with love-interest Peeta.
[2/3 of this review will be spoiler-free, the final 1/3 entitled ‘Ugly’ will not be]
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens with injuries both physical (damaged vocal chords, swelling and bruising around her neck) and mental (having witnessed her once-fiancee’s resulting psychotic break after mental torture). Aware that the gentle and warm Ying to her brusque and cold Yang has been tortured, possibly beyond repair, her endeavour to destroy the totalitarian regime of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is stronger and more determined than ever. Whilst continuing to undertake the P.R stunts set for her by President Coin (Julianne Moore) Katniss decides to set her own agenda by sneaking into the Capital and wreak her own personal vengeance against Snow.
The acting in this film is absolutely top-class. Lawrence is continually astounding as Katniss, playing her with a believable and engaging distance. Katniss has seen and done to many horrific things – Jennifer manages to present this in such a way that the audience still manages to connect with Katniss even when Katniss disconnects herself from everyone on-screen. Moore is fantastic as President Coin, presenting a character with understated depth. Woody Harrelson is as enjoyable as ever as Haymitch, as is Elizabeth Banks as Effie. Though have far less to do in this than the three other films their roles are still scene-stealing. Donald Sutherland is so good at being bad, presenting Snow almost as Nero watching Rome burn. The stand-out has to be Plutarch as played by Phillip Seymour Hoffmann (who sadly passed away on Feb 2nd 2014, mid-way through filming this movie). Although Hoffmann’s presence in the film is not unexpected, he was present in the previous two films, there is still a slight and devastating surprise at seeing him on-screen. The success of his character is a staunch reminder of what a great loss he was.
For many, ‘Mockingjay’ is the weakest of the literary trilogy. Tonally it is very different from the other two books, less ‘Battle Royale’ and more political assassination. With the film adaptations ‘Mockingjay Part One’ was rather exposition-heavy, a lot of talking and borderline critique of politics. This film is almost-stoppy starty in tone, with time often needlessly given to scenes which did not require quite-so-much screen time. There are many sequences in the film which are stand-out. When the Games themselves are brought into the Capital there are some real frights. However there are many scenes which almost drag-along, talking about what characters are going to do next then showing them as opposed to getting straight into the action. The whole ’76th Hunger Games’ aspect is cut too-short far too-soon. There is also too much screentime given to pontifications on leadership and power, speeches which become rather mawkish after a certain amount of time.
The Ugly (Herebe the Spoilers!)
The ending. When referring to the ending I don’t mean the final face-off between Katniss and Snow, or Katniss’s decision over her love interests. I mean that final 2 minute long sequence with Katniss five years into the future. It’s exactly how the book ended, though that was set further into the future and was perhaps reduced to minimize any necessity for Harry Potter epilogue-esque aging make-up, so arguably it’s the source material which is being questioned here as opposed to the film-makers. It is truly hard to really feel comfortable with ‘that’ ending (with Katniss, Peeta and their two young children sat in a field). For a film which prides itself on it’s strong female lead, who was not laden with any limiting feminine attributes and could truly hold her own on a battlefield, then ending with the ‘reward’ of children and a nuclear family. On the one hand it could be read as symbolic, thanks to the actions of their parents these two children will not have to undergo the horrors of the Hunger Games. Yet it could easily be read as a patriarchal return, shedding her warrior status for frumpily-dressed mother. Either way, the ending is less than a bang and more of a whimper.
If you’ve seen the previous three films it makes sense to see the finale on the big screen. But lower your expectations, set them to’ very slightly disappointing’ and embrace the film for what it is. Whilst it may have uneven pacing, the ensemble cast present a masterclass in acting. Focus on enjoying the stand-out sequences and saying goodbye to some fantastic characters.