We live in a world where we have become reluctantly acquainted with wholly unnecessary two-part finales, and it is safe to say that we now know what to expect when we oblige and pay for two trips to the cinema.
Part 1 is usually the unsatisfactory, obligatory sit-through; a slow, draggy build-up to the glorious climax that we are denied until the next movie. Part 2 usually hits the ground running as the all-action, minimal plot, elongated big bang that rounds up the series with grandeur.
But The Hunger Games proves otherwise. For once, Part 1 might actually be better than Part 2.
Behind the inspiring and captivating protagonist that is the Girl on Fire, The Hunger Games has set our hearts ablaze for four years. As the final chapter to that journey, Mockingjay – Part 2 concludes a largely well-written, well-acted and well-executed series with consistent loyalty to its realistically dark undertones and socio-political themes. And for that, it is a satisfactory ending. But executing this ending and the ideas it embodies is a very different thing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to putting out the Fire, Mockingjay almost extinguishes it in a somewhat uninspired fashion. It certainly does not kill the revolution (as Haymitch wisely warned about less-than-motivating performances in Part 1), but Mockingjay lacks the spark to inspire us to soldier on for its lengthy two-and-a-half hours, even though we really do buy and gladly accept what we were fighting for in the end.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
Disclaimer: The reviewer has not read ‘Mockingjay’ by Suzanne Collins (from which this film is adapted) at the point of viewing the film and of writing the review.
Mockingjay – Part 2 picks up exactly where Part 1 left off. The “brainwashed” Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is making a slow recovery and is still far from his normal self. That further motivates the deeply traumatised Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrencee), who has warmed up to her role as the symbol of the Rebellion, to put an end to Snow’s tyranny once and for all. But as Katniss finds herself in the thick of the final showdown – in a booby-trapped Capitol determined to “make sport of (their) deaths” – she learns that the horrors of war come from all directions, even the side she is fighting on.
As a film series, The Hunger Games made a grand entry with two chair-gripping and highly intelligent films centred on the Arena, laced with fascinating, disturbing and thrilling action scenes interweaved with deeply meaningful explorations of politics and the media. Mockingjay – Part 1 was different, tossing out the fun and allure of Arena. But it nonetheless kept us interested with its fresh, darker and more mature take on the series, and all the emotional weight that came with its focus on the horrors and trauma of war.
With Part 2 – and by its very virtue of being a “Part 2” – we expect the film to up its Game (if you will) for the grand finale. But it does not. The film is still determined to keep us on the sidelines of the action, turning the climax we were anticipating into what really feels like an anti-climax.
For the most part, we are left waiting for something to happen. In the mean time, what should be a 45 minute or 1 hour sequence is stretched to its thin 2 hour length with countless “breaks” in between the little action that happens; there are only so many times we can be reminded that rebels need to rest, eat, sleep and chit-chat before such moments become plainly redundant. No doubt, these scenes are still injected with decently interesting content, but we really could do without them. And when something finally does happen, we are left to wonder if that was really all there was to it.
Because Katniss and her District 13 squad spend much of their time running from, really, nothing at all, Mockingjay does not offer the thrills of the first two movies. Nor does it have the emotional weight of Part 1, because it barely allows any time for such moments to sink in. One particular death is depicted in such a sweeping fashion that it is far from the emotional punch in the gut that it should have been, even though we understand it to be significant. While the series used to thrive on such a balance between action and emotion, most of that has been lost in the messy scramble through the Capitol.
But that is not to say that Part 2 has thrown the series off its course. It still has its chair-gripping action scenes, albeit very few. It is still well-acted; with Lawrence, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore leading virtually every scene, it is hard to go wrong. It is still emotional, haunting and horrifying in a handful of moments. And it is still rich with its dark and serious political and ethical undertones.
Mockingjay’s strength lies almost exclusively in its final segments, when the messy Capitol showdown has finally ended and the characters must confront the issues that have driven the four films. It comes as no surprise that these are the moments with the most intelligence and poignancy, and they are effectively haunting because of that.
It is very easy to imagine how this conclusion could have been better executed. For starters, do not split-slash-decapitate a single narrative into two weaker portions. The rebels of the 13 districts know that there is strength in unity, and it is certainly plausible that a united, single Mockingjay film would have been a pretty spectacular finale. But alas, c’est la vie in a world of profit.
But for a conclusion that was commendably consistent with its dark and realistic themes, it is hard to imagine how it could have been better written. At the end of the day, we buy it all. We believe in what Katniss fought for and the difficult decisions she had to make (even towards the very end).
An affective and moving final scene concludes the entire series, and it is satisfying not for the preceding, uneven 130 minutes it took to get there. Rather, it wins our hearts for its well-deservedness (after a powerfully compelling journey that captivated for four years) and especially for the Girl on Fire who owns it.
And Katniss Everdeen and the countless people who brought her adventure to life deserve our three-finger salute. Cue the four-note whistle.
Rating: 3.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Okay, I guess? Could be better.”)