Of all the potential successors to the Harry Potter literary and cinematic throne (Twilight, Divergent, The Maze Runner) The Hunger Games has been by far the most successful. Taking over the mantle almost immediately following the conclusion of the boy wizard’s adventures, The Hunger Games has been a massive hit from the moment Suzanne Collin’s first book hit store shelves, and the film adaptations made Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) a household name. That kind of contribution to the cultural mind share is a rare thing, so it’s unfortunate that the final instalment of the film adaptations is the weakest of the series.
Picking up shortly after the conclusion of Mockingjay – Part 1, the alliance of Panem’s outer districts slowly but surely move towards the Capitol, inching ever closer towards a final confrontation with President Snow (two-time Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland; Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Space Cowboys) and his Peacekeepers. After being sent to film propaganda footage in the carnage the fighting has left in its wake by President Coin (Academy Award winner Julianne Moore; Still Alice, The Lost World: Jurassic Park), Katniss (Lawrence), along with Gale (Liam Hemsworth; The Dressmaker, The Expendables 2), Boggs (Mahershala Ali; House of Cards, The 4400) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer; Game of Thrones, The Tudors), decides to forge ahead and kill Snow herself.
First, let’s get this out of the way. The Hunger Game: Mockingjay – Part 2 is not a bad movie. It’s consistently entertaining, incredibly well acted and the action set pieces are brilliant. But it suffers from the same problem so many other young adult novel adaptations are starting to and that’s the totally unnecessary extension of a 390 page book into a four hour and twenty minute epic split over two films. I didn’t detect this issue in Part 1 and Part 2 certainly doesn’t suffer as badly from the extension as, say, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 for example, but it is there.
The material is stretched out, straining to support its extended runtime and while Mockingjay – Part 2 sets the vast majority of its narrative on the battlefield, it can drag horribly at times. Particularly problematic is the love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson; Bridge to Terabithia, Journey to the Centre of the Earth), which was reasonably well handled in previous films. In this film, it seems like an afterthought rammed into the movie only because it had to be.
Also problematic is the final battle between the rebels and the Capitol, which is dealt with largely off screen. I understand this is simply the movie being faithful to the original novel. However, what Collins presented in prose is not enough to fill so much of the movie for the basic fact that when writing the book, she didn’t overextend the story. The film’s ending also drags and far too much of it feels like an unnecessary coda that halts the momentum built up in the finale.
All that being said, when Mockingjay – Part 2 works, it really works. The battlefield is rigged with a host of traps of the same sort as those in the Hunger Games, and the group’s fitful navigation of them works brilliantly. There’s a number of creative threats that must be dealt with and the movie feels right at home in presenting them. Of particular note is a sequence underground that is one of the most thrilling moments the series has ever created and what little we do see of the rebels fighting the Peacekeepers is brilliantly realised, full of sound, fire and fury.
Lawrence is once again the series’ greatest strength; she was always the perfect choice for Katniss and that’s no different here. She does incredible work throughout the film. She performs spectacularly in the film’s third act and Katniss’ final confrontation with Snow. It is an incredible showcase for both her and Donald Sutherland, who himself has proved to be one of the series’ secret weapons. His work here is his best in the entire series, and his icy rapport with Lawrence remains as vital to both characters as it ever has been.
It’s also worth noting that this is the final film of Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Mission Impossible III), who tragically passed away during filming. He’s not in the movie much, and there are a few scenes were his absence is keenly felt but the moments that he does appear are proof of what a fine actor he was.
His work as Plutarch is as brilliant as ever and Hoffman dominates every scene he’s in, no matter how small his character’s role in it. Along with Lawrence, Hoffman was one of the series’ best casting choices and his performance in this final installment is only a reminder of what a great talent has been lost.
I’d be lying if I said The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 didn’t have plenty of problems, but for all its flaws, it remains a decent film bolstered by an incredible cast. Its source material certainly didn’t need to be stretched as far as it was, but the final installment in the film series, while undoubtedly is its weakest, is still an entertaining movie that competently, if not spectacularly, closes out what can only be described as a cultural phenomenon.