By Chaz Lipp
What is it about The Hunger Games movies that leaves me unable to recall the previous installment in any sort of detail? I’ve been to see each of the four movies (full disclosure: I’ve never read the books), including the latest and final chapter Mockingjay Part 2. It’s easy enough, even for a non-devotee, to get caught up in the general hoopla that turns these Jennifer Lawrence-starring extravaganzas into events. But, and I don’t mean to be snarky, I went into the big finale with a hazy memory of Part 1.
The answer is pretty simple: there isn’t enough narrative invention in The Hunger Games films to justify the existence of four films. The first one presented a winningly-realized visualization of source novel author Suzanne Collins’ colorfully cracked dystopian future. As we followed Katniss Everdeen’s (Lawrence) rise to folk hero status, leading a rebellion against the tyranny in the Capitol and the sadistic President Snow (Donald Sutherland), somehow the story turned less exciting instead of more so. The kids-vs-kids death match of the first film, with the garish spectacle that buoyed it (led by Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant turn as host of the televised death match, Caesar Flickerman), was nasty fun (yeah, yeah, Battle Royale is better and all that, but still—Hunger Games established its own voice well enough). After the first film, Lawrence’s Katniss morphed quickly into a video game avatar and the whole thing settled into a series of rather predictable sci-fi/action cliches.
There are some admittedly thrilling action set pieces in Mockingjay Part 2 as Katniss and her team march toward their showdown with Snow. The treacherous booby traps that line the Capitol lead to some real excitement, particularly a flood of deadly black oil that surges in at one point. And speaking of Snow, Sutherland has such fun chewing the scenery in this role that it’s a true shame we don’t see more of him. And of course, sadly, we don’t see enough of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. This was the role Hoffman was shooting when he died of a drug overdose. As such, former Gamemaker Plutarch is an insignificant presence here. In fact, he just kind of disappears after the first act, with a couple of awkwardly edited-in reaction shots during the film’s climax.
Speaking of that climax, without giving anything away, there’s not much suspense or surprise in the developments involving rebellion leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). The whole franchise lands with a dull thud, though on a purely scene-for-scene level Mockingjay Part 2 is more consistently entertaining than its immediate predecessor. And, after the long build-up, the “love triangle” between Katniss, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) doesn’t end up going anywhere. In fact, Gale winds up coming off like a total chump; one wonders how the filmmakers could manage to do so little with Hemsworth over the course of four movies (the end result of Gale’s character arc is distressingly unoriginal and a big waste). As for new characters, Michelle Forbes is a welcome addition, doing as much as she can with the underwritten role of Lt. Jackson.
The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 Images: Lionsgate