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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Movie Review: 'The Hunger Games - Mockingjay, Part 2'

The final (and tired) Hunger Games film proves that YA is truly dead.

Review by Matt Cummings

As someone who found the premise beind The Hunger Games to be barely agreeable, I have come to enjoy their play on the big screen, both as a zeitgeist meter and for the way it launched Actress Jennifer Lawrence's career. Along the way, I appreciated its gripping social commentary, as well as the violent and bloody conflict given to us in the form of gladitorial tributes. But with four films under its belt, the series feels as war-weary as its subject, no longer reflecting its namesake, and perhaps proving that YA-based movies might be truly dead.

As the showdown between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) approaches its zenith, the citizens of the various Districts band together to wage war against Panem's sadistic leader. But it's clear that District leaders like Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) have other plans post-Snow, while freedom fighters ike Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) struggle to regain themselves after beung brutally brainwashed. Caught between desiring a free Panem and a safe one, Katniss must walk a fine line as Snow unleashes a new version of The Hunger Games on his own Capitol city.

For its mammoth 136-minute runtime, a lot of story behind Writers Peter Craig and Dannny Storng's adaption of Suzanne Collins' book is poorly introduced and/or concluded. Entire groups of characters who appear throughout the film suddenly occupy far lesser roles. Some aren't, just...on to other projects? Gwendoline Christe shows up ever so briefly as some sort of rebel leader, but quickly dissolves into the fracas; she's either a cameo that few will recognize or a character who had their scenes cut. Woody Harrelson's Haymitch barely appears, his role as advisor suddenly replaced by sitting around and looking preturbed. The same goes with Jennna Malone, Sam Caflin, and Jeffrey Wright's characters, with Malone getting several quality scenes before taking on an unexplained new role in Coin's administration.

Moore, for the street cred she brings to her roles, is entirely mismananged here. One of the least satisfying aspects of Mockingjay is her sudden contamination. She turns from a pragmatic voice to usurper without learning why she's actually gotten to this point. That makes for a wholly unsatisfying resolution to her character, along with Sutherland, who also transitions poorly from Hilter to Hussein. All of a sudden, the rebellion's over and Snow is gone.

I do like the growing darkness that this series has become, something between a tense political thriller and a brutal war drama. At least Director Francis Lawrence got that portion right. He gives Lawrence the bulk of the wieght to bear, and as we've seen so many times she soars with it. JLaw inhabits Katniss, providing the only anchor to a story that would have gone terribly south without her. She can't be helped if Lawrence the Director and Editor Alan Edward Bell can't fashion a thrilling enough conclusion. That ending arrives in several phases, like watching Return of the King over and over. Aand none of it is particularly interesting or well done.

There's a sort of maddening whipsaw to Josh Hutcherson's Peeta, who would have been eliminated by someone based on what he does to a member of Katniss's team. His arc is missing a serious amount of realism: he goes from pscyhotic babbler, to stooge on the trip, to a series of ending scenes which caused a stir among our test audience.

As the series comes to its conclusion, it exhibits the same problems that plagued even Star Wars. Sure, Hunger has made a ton of money, elevated JLaw into an Oscar sensation, and embraced the idea of a smart action heronie. But it also minimizes great supporting players Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, and even the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I hate to say this, but Mockingjay needed a third installment or a much longer cut in order to tell their stories more completely.

In the end, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 limps to a final beat that does nothing to further the YA genre. As the final scene of the film gives way to the credits, we can imagine the entire genre ending with it.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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