Hunger Games: Mockingjay – part 2 review

There’s an anecdote Elijah Wood tells about how Jack Nicholson walked out of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King because he thought it had ended – and that there were too many endings. In some ways it feels like Mockingjay – Part 2 has taken a leaf out of LOTR’s playbook, either in terms of stretching something into two when it really should have remained as one, or by attempting to milk the ending of Part 2 for all it’s worth. Either way, I didn’t buy it.

That’s not to say the actors didn’t sell it. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss remains as watchable as ever (I’ve been a huge fan since Winter’s Bone days), it’s just, structurally, it didn’t grab me. Is this a case of sticking too slavishly to the books? (I can’t say as I haven’t read them.) Or is it a case – as is the way with a lot of Hollywood blockbusters – in that you have a great idea and characters, you set them up nicely then have no idea how to finish it in a satisfying way?

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That’s the hard part. Endings.

Beginnings are easy, that’s like a honeymoon, an affair, or even a steamy fling. It’s all lusty and shiny and new and exciting. But once you’ve had a chance to live with these characters a bit and get to know them, do you then stick around? Do you care enough to want to stick around?

The other issue is, if you build up a big franchise with global appeal (as Hunger Games has done) you set yourself a huge benchmark. People expect big, dramatic, heartbreaking things. If you don’t give them that they feel short-changed. And it’s not overly critical to say Mockingjay – Part 2 does pinch on pennies in certain places when it comes to evoking our emotions.

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Let’s take the general plot. Leader of the rebels President Coin (Julianne Moore) wants Katniss to hang back during the final battle with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to wheel her out for a victory lap and as you’d expect, she doesn’t follow orders. Her team – complete with Finnick (Sam Claflin), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – infiltrate Snow’s district in a sort of drawn out surgical strike. To hold them back Snow gets the gamemakers to set traps, turning the Capitol into its own Hunger Games.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Turning the Capitol into a booby-trapped minefield sounds great on paper. Plenty of ways for the characters to interact with the cityscape, perhaps with Snow taunting them on monitors and screens and finding ever more inventive ways for the rebels to wish him dead. Instead, what we get is a rather lethargic series of set pieces (with the exception of a sequence underground) where Katniss and the gang evade the traps and sleep quite a lot (honestly, count the number of naps they take, it kills the film’s pace).

Perhaps it’s the difficult (and uneccessary) second album syndrome kicking in? Here’s an idea, take all the best bits of Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 and put them into a tight final story and it probably would have had a lot of emotional impact and been a roller-coaster of a finish to the franchise. But here it feels more a case of characters fading away than burning out.

And when Coin finally does seize power from Snow, even the most wooden-headed viewer can tell what’s going to happen to her. Then, coming full circle, there’s the end. Seriously, how many times do you need to end a film? It probably should have finished on an emotionally harrowing note (let’s face it, the franchise has gotten more serious and po-faced as it’s gone on) but instead director Francis Lawrence opts for lashings of cheese come the finish. Which really wasn’t needed. And, if anything, further served to put me off.

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So as a result, for me, if I take the franchise as a whole, it started well enough but petered out as it went on, which is a shame to have to say. And whilst I’m not saying one man could have saved it, I think it suffered a lot from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman – an actor who could do more with a wry smile and a nod than most of the rest of the cast put together.

There’s talk of the studio doing a prequel. I hope they don’t bother with the young cast and instead just focus of President Snow: The Early Years. His rise to power could be something. And who doesn’t love a bad guy with snowy white beard and a little chuckle? Perhaps he started life good and slowly became corrupted by the world around him? I’d watch that.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay, part 1 – review

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Following events in the last Hunger Games where (spoiler, but I’ll assume, for the purposes of this blog, that you’re up to speed on the story so far) Katniss basically broke the arena in a giant explosion and was whisked away by the rebels, which included Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Quite an epic finale to the first two films you might say. What this meant, in terms of story, is that, for Mockingjay, part 1 you have to explain a lot of the world, as it’s changed so much. Almost a reset of the story.

As ever, we follow things from Katniss’s (Jennifer Lawrence) point of view. At the film’s start we find that she’s in an underground military stronghold which commands the rebel base of operations. They’re led by President Coin (a rather cold and clinical Julianne Moore).

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On the other side of the fence in the evil Capitol, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is tightening the screws on the downtrodden masses in each of the districts still standing (many have been bombed to rubble).

The rebels are desperate to use Katniss as their symbol – their Mockingjay – to fan the flames of the revolution. She is initially reluctant as she remains traumatised from the events of the games and, most crucially, from having left Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind. As a result poor old Peeta has become a propaganda pawn for Snow throughout this Part 1, and Katniss suffers greatly from the way in which Snow toys with her through his manipulation of Peeta.

As a leading lady Lawrence continues to prove why Katniss was – and still is – a character for which she will forever be remembered. She goes through a whole gamut of emotions in this film; granted, mostly anguish and despair as things go from bad to worse, but also righteous anger and white hot fury, as she sends Snow a message or two of her own.

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In terms of good versus bad, lines begin to blur a little, with the rebels employing similar tactics to that of the Capitol. With Plutarch advising President Coin, they discuss Katniss’s image and the message she must deliver to rouse the people. She ends up with a camera crew – led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) filming her most emotional moments, trying to orchestrate the perfect soundbite. A little unsettling, as far as media parallels go.

The penultimate film in any franchise is always a tough one. You’ve got to have some good stuff in there, but save a lot of the best bits for the final instalment. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) does admirably in this respect. The story is well paced, given the running time, and is suitably sombre overall, apt considering what’s taken place.

In terms of tone it has that sense of calm before the storm, which is welcoming if you take the arc of the franchise into account. And despite the words ‘Hunger Games’ in the title, we’ve moved way past actual games taking place.

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The fight for survival is now much larger in scope. Once the world expands we’re left – in no uncertain terms – in entirely new territory. The stakes are higher, as is the death count (although it’s rare you actually ever see any deaths, considering the 12a rating).

So as far as penultimate franchise sci-fi action goes, it’s a great experience. Many may bemoan the lack of big action set pieces, yet it allows the whole story to take a breather and build the characters on a deeper level. It’ll also sit nicely alongside the final Mockingjay film, of which I expect big, big things in terms of action, spectacle, and Katniss kicking Capitol ass.