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Film Review | The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

The Hunger Games saga finally comes to a conclusion. But does this truncated final chapter of Katniss Everdeen’s revolutionary quest satisfy?

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
30 November 2015, 8:30am
Bows at the ready: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) lead the attack in this final installment of the hugely popular young adult book-and-film saga
Bows at the ready: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) lead the attack in this final installment of the hugely popular young adult book-and-film saga
The Hunger Games is one of the better of the hugely popular based-on-novels young adult sagas that have become a benchmark, along with Twilight and Harry Potter, of the Hollywood machine of late. If only because it has something to say… after a fashion. Simplistic as it may be, its critique of both totalitarian regimes and the entertainment-industrial complex is proof that populism and substance can be wended together to sometimes satisfying effect.

But one irritating element of its lucrative sub-genre is also, unfortunately, imported here – the money-squeezing tendency of splitting the final book of the series in question into two films. It’s a wound that this final chapter suffers keenly – particularly on the heels of its thrilling predecessor.

With the stakes now raised to global heights, reluctant revolutionary Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) gathers her most trusted allies – (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) for the final, do-or-die stretch of their liberating mission. Together they leave their compound at the run-down District 13 with the aim of assassinating President Snow (Donald Sutherland) – who is obsessed with destroying Katniss in turn, and who is just preparing the 76th edition of the Hunger Games – the gladiatorial competition that has sadistically claimed the lives of countless Panem youth in the interest of the elitist Capitol’s entertainment and exploitation.

 

Director Francis Lawrence, who has taken all but the first Hunger Games adaptation under his wing, concludes his stay in Panem the same way he entered it. That is, with a rather bland but otherwise functional style that illustrates Suzanne Collins’s books in a way that has gone down well with fans and that provides the casual viewer with an adequate immersion into the dystopian-lite fictional world.

Unfortunately, this time around he can’t really coast on the beloved story to carry him through. Because the bulk of Mockingjay – the final installment of Collins’s saga – was more than capably delivered last film around, what we get here are quite literally the dregs of a story that appears to have climaxed either in the previous film, or somewhere off-screen when we weren’t looking.

In many ways the classic ‘hero’s journey’ re-jigged for a 21st century young-adult audience who are cool with having a female heroine as their resident Luke Skywalker, the beats of The Hunger Games saga have always been quite familiar. The problem is that these things work best in threes, and the truncated tempo of this fourth movie bears it out with rancid gusto.

Where Part 1 gave us a great crescendo encompassing propaganda tapes, the planning of a covert and high-risk sabotage mission, and a hair-raising early climax with the ‘Hanging Tree’ popular uprising, Part 2 gives us unimaginatively slow-fast/slow-fast series of sequences padding out a very thin plot forward.

It’s a shame, because there’s quite a bit to chew on in some of the details: Katniss as a weary revolutionary that’s past her sell-by date and the – admittedly somewhat predictable – ethical ambiguity surrounding Julianne Moore’s revolutionary leader President Coin being chief among them. There’s little doubt in my mind that, franchise commitment aside, Lawrence would have cooked up a thrilling little film out of these ingredients alone. But being what it is – much like superhero cinema, the Hunger Games melds various genres out of a dedication to mass appeal, rather than artistic enthusiasm – things are stretched to a seemingly interminable two-and-a-half hours.

The end result is that the darker moments just end up being glum interludes, and the instances of high-octane action a contrived attempt to make us stand to attention (a barely-explained attack by Morlock-like sewer dwellers is the primary culprit here, more so when Lawrence opts to shoot the ensuing melee in video game stylings).

Another intriguing theme to peek its way out of the woodwork is the none-too-subtle allegory Lawrence and his team – Peter Craig and Danny Strong adapt Collins’s book – appear to be flirting with here. In a crucial scene, the villainous President Snow uses some very telling phrases to slander the rebels in a televised speech. They don’t understand our comforts and our culture, he says, and they hate us for it. Not too dissimilar to how the West often chooses to characterize attacks by supposed “outsiders”… and a highly subversive move on the part of the authors and filmmakers, if intentional.

But like all that’s good in this final series, it gets swallowed up by a powerful cultural leviathan perhaps even more familiar to us all than the sleek totalitarianism espoused by Snow and his ilk.

It’s a creature that both propels and devours all, and in whose belly we treadmill to produce more of its effluvia every passing day. It’s a creature that requires even best-selling book sagas to truncate their final act into two movies, so as to generate even more money than they would with an already sizeable in-built audience.

It’s a creature called capitalism, and unlike the Hunger Games saga, it’s here to stay. May the odds be ever in our favour.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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