The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Review by Sophie Monks Kaufman @sopharsogood

Directed by

Francis Lawrence

Starring

Donald Sutherland Jennifer Lawrence Josh Hutcherson

Anticipation.

Quivering with anticipation like an arrow in a taut bow.

Enjoyment.

The power of previous world-building uplifts this diluted finale.

In Retrospect.

Two stars: Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland.

The final roll of the dice for Katniss and crew sadly doesn’t match previous instalments.

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper,” wrote TS Eliot in his poem, ‘The Hollow Man’, in 1925. Ninety years on and The Hunger Games has gone out in the same style. All but its dependably captivating leading lady and a deliciously villainous Donald Sutherland have run out of steam.

The result is a film that has the integrity to stay true to the parameters of Suzanne Collins’ fictional dystopia but is nevertheless flat and – for a universe built on kids killing kids for televised entertainment – disappointingly lacking in tension and satirical bite. Whereas Mockingjay – Part 1 worked as a rounded, stand-alone film, the plodding nature of Part 2 suggests that the third of Collins’ books should have been turned into one instead of two films. But, you know, money.

The realisation is slow to dawn that this film about battle-weary revolutionaries tying up loose ends has a synopsis that also applies to its production. It’s to the credit of the world-building that has gone before, the immersive production design and Jennifer Lawrence’s emoting skills that the urge to engage with the story remains present for as long as it does. There are flashes of excitement that push back the tide of tedium. As Katniss and her squad – including love triangle members Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – progress from District 13 to the Capitol on a mission to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), they encounter ‘pods’ aka invisible tripwires that release all manner of awfulness: machine gun fire, black oil, mutts.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.” mutters Finnick (Sam Claflin) on discovering the pods. Death by inventive cruelty has always been a strength of the series, serving action thrills to audiences and motivation for hero, Katniss, to fight back. Director Francis Lawrence is only being loyal to the book when he dials back these action sequences and dials up the number of exposition-heavy character exchanges. Mockingjay Part 2 is a proficient exercise in dragging out a story that was only meant to fill half a movie, but proficient is not the same as exciting.

As ever, Jennifer Lawrence provides a masterclass on how to embody a character. In The Hunger Games and Mockingjay Part 1, the infrastructure of the film world supported her place at the centre of an intricate jigsaw. Here, she operates in a looser system to the extent that the salve of her onscreen presence often seems to be screaming into nothingness. The lack of definition extends to the look of the film. Where once there was Dickensian squalor, gaudy excesses and the metallic greys of a rebel bunker, now there is only the mists of a world overtaken by war. Save for their glowing faces, Katniss and her platoon are black-clad soldiers. Occasional glimpses of the Capitol are a tonic, especially Snow, who is unwell and offsetting his trademark white with red blood splattered into a handkerchief.

By this stage in the Mockingjay story, most of the juiciest supporting characters have been sidelined. Anyone hoping for meaty servings of Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson or Stanley Tucci will be foiled. There’s another actor, one of the greatest of his time, for whom this is a swan song. Philip Seymour Hoffman is so absent that it feels like he left this mortal coil before the film wrapped, which is true, and never more palpable than when Haymitch reads a letter written by his character, Plutarch. The last pleasure is to be found in the way that he delivers the line: “It’s so frustrating when she goes rogue.” He’s half-smiling, half-ironic and his voice rumbles with quiet nuance.

What else is left? The love triangle, which is handicapped by Liam Hemsworth at peak woodenness. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta has more sound and fury. Mockingjay Part 1 ended as he tried to throttle Katniss after being tortured and brainwashed by the Capitol. ‘Will he or won’t he return to his old self?’ is the question that sustains his arc. Katniss is at her most powerful when she has loved ones to fight for. Peeta serves this function, while her mother and sister remain impotent in the peripheries. It’s all building to two fights: the revolutionaries from all districts versus the Capitol, and Katniss versus President Snow. There is a twist that is so poorly plotted that when it happens it means nothing. Yet, one match delivers a divine chemistry.

Donald Sutherland’s laughter, his delight at chaos, the sickness of his character manifesting in blood spots as he sits in a spectacular dome meets its perfect counterpoint in the earnest goodness of Lawrence’s performance. Her potency is rooted in a combination of inner fire, athleticism and craft. She funnels up raw feelings, expressed in a spare formation of words, emphasised with sudden and precise movements. She watches. She listens. She reacts. She never trades off sentiment. She never phones it in. It’s a real shame that almost everything else in this promising and history-making series collapses before the finishing line, leaving Jennifer Lawrence standing alone in the burnt-out shell of the world that rocketed her to stardom.

Published 9 Nov 2015

Anticipation.

Quivering with anticipation like an arrow in a taut bow.

Enjoyment.

The power of previous world-building uplifts this diluted finale.

In Retrospect.

Two stars: Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland.

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