One of the best sequences in this final Hunger Games movie occurs about midway through, when Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and a group of rebel commandos, staging a raid on The Capital, make their way underground through the sewers.
In the tight corridors beneath the city, the group is stalked and eventually attacked by a gang of ‘mutts’, feral zombie-like creatures with no eyes and sharp teeth. Director Francis Lawrence cribs from both Alien (the silent chase through the vents) and Aliens (a firefight with the creatures) here, but Mockingjay comes vibrantly alive for a 15-minute sequence that provides genuine tension (and even a real scare), action movie thrills, and narrative development.
Earlier, there’s a brief Full Metal Jacket-like war movie sequence that finds the rebels pinned down in an arena surrounded by booby traps and later flooded with a tar-like substance. It, too, provides some efficient thrills while moving the plot forward.
But outside of these two sequences, there’s precious little action – or even plot – in this second half of the final chapter of the Hunger Games movie. It’s a grim, one-note, and incredibly drawn-out affair that keeps going on and on and induces grumbles and groans as the protracted finale attempts to outdo Return of the King in number of endings.
Like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, all the plot-heavy setup has been taken care of and the stage is set in Mockingjay – Part 2 for an epic battle epic battle that will provide a definitive finale for this popular franchise.
Picking up right where Part 1 left off (no recap for the those returning to these characters after a year), Mockingjay 2 opens with the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) restrained in rebel care as Katniss takes a good long look at her one-time friend and lover, who just tried to kill her, as war-weary as she’s ever been.
For this and other transgressions, she yearns to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) with her own hands, though this would mean going behind the backs of rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and turncoat gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his final screen appearance).
After a quick – and entirely inconsequential – siege on the Capital base in District 2 to lay the groundwork, the rebels begin their assault on the trap-laden District 1 Capital grounds. Katniss sneaks behind enemy lines, forcing her rebel ‘superiors’ to go along with the ruse and send her into battle.
On the hunt for Snow, Katniss is joined by a team rebels that includes former/potential future love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth), former Hunger Games contestant Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), team leader Boggs (Mahershala Ali), and a camera crew (Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham) tracking her progress to fuel the rebel fire.
From here, the film becomes the Death Star assault from the original Star Wars, stretched to the length of an entire film. What should have been an exciting finale is instead the whole movie – there’s no arc, little character development, and the path is as straight as one of Katniss’ arrows.
Still, I liked how the movie tackles themes of war and innocence for a young audience; in Clerks, Kevin Smith once spared a thought to the innocent Death Star contractors killed in Return of the Jedi, and that’s something this Hunger Games movie explores in depth. It often plays as The Young Adult’s Guide to Modern Warfare, but it’s something.
Fans of the series, I think, appreciate seeing more of the characters they’ve come to love, even when sometimes drastic changes have been made from the source material. This is the last chance they’ll get to spend with them, so every minute is special.
But for the rest of us, there’s no denying that Mockingjay – Part 2 doesn’t work as a standalone narrative. It’s very much a piece with the previous entries – and as a whole, the series is remarkably consistent – but there are few rewards gleamed from a one-off viewing. It’s just so flat.
And it plods on and on as it attempts to tie up every loose end and leave no questions or ambiguity. Eventually, the audience I was with gave up on it and erupted into grumbles as the film reached its (let’s pray) final scene, half an hour after the story has been completely resolved.
Mockingjay – Part 2 has some standout sequences, and gives the franchise a fitting (if protracted) conclusion. In a marathon home viewing of extended-edition Hunger Games DVDs, no one will complain about any weaknesses in the last 2.5 hours. But on its own, it’s the weakest of the series; by the final finale, I was overjoyed that the film – and this franchise – had finally come to a close.