The violence is finally over.
After four feature-length films about the ravages of state-sponsored murder and outright civil war, today’s premiere young adult movie franchise has come to a close with the release of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” based on the latter half of the third novel in the series written by Suzanne Collins.
What makes this franchise stand apart from its young adult dystopian apocalypse franchise brethren – most notably the “Divergent” and “Maze Runner” empires – is the casting of then-unknown and now Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role of Katniss Everdeen, a Joan of Arc-esque female warrior reluctantly forced into combat time and again for the survival of herself, her family and her people.
Lawrence brings a gravitas to the role that few other actresses her age could ever aspire to and is able to create a complex character in a genre typically lacking in depth. Even as the series wanes in its final sequels, it’s Lawrence who is able to keep an otherwise depressing and mind-numbingly dull fourth film watchable to the bitter end.
“Mockingjay Part 2” picks up a few days after the events at the conclusion to “Part 1,” by far the worst of the four films due to over exposition and a lack of quality action set pieces. “Part 2” suffers from many of these same flaws, but is redeemed by a terrifically haunting sequence in tunnels below the Capitol where Everdeen and her friends are raiding to kill the villainous President Snow. The monsters – called muttations – are on par with the quality of mindless attackers found in zombie prestige pieces like “I Am Legend” and to a lesser extent, “World War Z.”
Given how amazing both the original “Hunger Games” and its sequel “Catching Fire” were at balancing action and drama in compelling ways, both of the series’ “Mockingjay” entries significantly underwhelm as director Francis Lawrence remains so faithful to the source novel that it feels like both viewers and filmmakers were simply checking scenes off a list.
As a result, what should have been one of the year’s biggest action movies ultimately is nothing more than a film that ardent fans of the “Hunger Games” will need to see to find closure on the franchise, not pure enjoyment of the movie. By the end of “Mockingjay Part 2,” the entire viewing experience becomes an obligation, especially when the final action sequences concludes with more than 20 minutes left to go.
Aimed for pre-teen and teenage audiences, the fourth “Hunger Games” film is remarkably dark in tone throughout and raises many complex questions about the consequences of war, post traumatic stress and betrayal that parents might want to discuss with their children following the movie. There’s nothing in “Mockingjay Part 2” that will feel unfamiliar or new for readers of the source novel, however.
Probably the best thing about “Mockingjay Part 2” is that Lawrence – one of Hollywood’s premiere actresses – can finally get back to pursuing dramatic projects like “American Hustle” and the upcoming “Joy” that she was clearly meant to do.
Her immense talent feels largely wasted now in this final chapter of the “Hunger Games” saga, as it’s clear her heart’s not really in scenes opposite young heartthrobs Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. Hemsworth especially feels stiff and uncomfortable opposite Lawrence, which limits the effectiveness of the love triangle director Francis Lawrence has been attempting to foster for the last three films.
The biggest disappointment about the film isn’t about what’s on the screen, but a scene left out due to tragic circumstances. “Mockingjay Part 2” marks the final film in the illustrious career of veteran character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died midway during shooting.
As a result, moviegoers are left without getting to enjoy what likely would have been one of the franchise’s best moments, a farewell scene between Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee and Lawrence’s Everdeen. Putting the franchise’s two best actors alone in a room and letting them work for five minutes is exactly what the conclusion of “Mockingjay” needed to tie the series up in a neat bow, but instead viewers are left with an awkward sequence where Woody Harrelson reads a letter from Hoffman’s character. It just doesn’t feel right.
There’s a lot of quality acting depth in the movie from Harrelson and Julianne Moore to “Game of Thrones” actress Natalie Dormer, but the best supporting work in the film comes from stalwart Donald Sutherland, who plays a menacing antagonist President Snow to great effect. Indeed, many of the best dialogue scenes in the entire franchise are the banter between Snow and Everdeen as they engage in verbal duels, perfectly counterbalancing each other.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough of these moments to elevate “Mockingjay Part 2” as a film.
When the dust finally settles on the “Hunger Games” franchise, it will be remembered for its quality first and second entries, led by fantastic performances from Lawrence and superb balance between action and exposition. “Mockingjay Part 2” prevents the franchise from going out with a bang instead of a sad wail, but does offer a fulfilling end to a quality movie series that need not be explored further.