Friday, June 3, 2016

"Mockingjay: Part 2" Caps Off the Better-Than-Necessary "Hunger Games" Franchise with a Worse-Than-It-Could've-Been Finale

Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is a sad panda. A sad, genocidal panda.
The first Hunger Games came out just after I started cataloging reviews on this site, and I realize now I've written quite a bit about this franchise over the last several years. Given that I reviewed each of the first three films, I've decided to review Mockingjay: Part 2 to close off the loop. If I wasn’t a completest, I probably wouldn't be reviewing this film. There are a lot of other movies I'd rather spend my limited time dissecting, mainly because so much of Mockingjay: Part 2 feels like pointless wheel spinning.

That's thematically the point, I get it, and, in fact, I like it. I really like it. The fact that this whole franchise and this final passage in particular, is basically a subversion of young adult genre tropes is pretty awesome in my book. I love that this isn't some heroic “chosen one” thing. I love that the romantic triangle is simultaneously treated as real and silly by these characters. I love the wary melancholy and the ruminations on perception over content, packaged violence and idealism turned rotten. And I love that the main character basically plays no part in the climactic battle, and that nearly everything she does in this film is pointless until the final 10 minutes or so.

At the same time, this really doesn't work as a movie, particularly because of that last point. Katniss is just a propaganda tool to the rebels, enslaved in many of the same ways she was by the Capitol. She's the inverse of Captain America, a hero who started as a bullshit rallying ploy but quickly became an assertive hero. She takes the opposite journey, and while that's a pretty awesome and downbeat concept for a blockbuster film to explore, it all plays so lifelessly here. Thank heavens for Jennifer Lawrence, who does so much heavy lifting here to make this thing play. It’s probably become cliché to adore her work, but goddamn she is amazing as Katniss Everdeen.

When I reviewed part 1, I suggested it was an artistic mistake to split Mockingjay into two films, and part 2 confirms it. This whole thing would've been far more potent if it was culled down to one film. Mockingjay: Part 1 was actually pretty effective on its own, because there were so many flavorful character moments to enjoy. Here, other than Katniss, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Coin (Julianne Moore), and Snow (Donald Sutherland), nobody has anything to do, and even many of those players aren’t afforded much. If you're going to break this relatively short book into two films, I feel like I'm at least entitled to more worthwhile moments with this great cast. Sadly, in this form, it all feels like a giant misuse of talent.

There are other annoyances too. For instance, I think it was a questionable character decision to cake so much makeup on Katniss toward the end of the film. And, at this point, given the size and success of these films, I am bewildered by how consistently mediocre and tacky the effects have been in this series. This is a multi-billion dollar franchise, so why do the effects look like something out of a direct -to-video Mimic sequel?

Ultimately this is an honest and poignant end to a series that was way better and far more nuanced than it needed to be. Author Suzanne Collins made some really great decisions with her books, and this film doesn’t shy away from those in the interest of pleasing the plebs, and I really like that. The film makes some strong points about heroism, sacrifice, disillusionment, and bull-shit trafficking. I just think it could've been even better if the filmmakers would’ve tightened these two parts into one instead of opting to milk every last dollar out of the cash cow. B