It’s a strange feeling, that of watching the final entry into a modern-day movie franchise. Specifically designed to build implicitly upon what has come before, the “average movie-goer” almost feels obligated to watch the previous cinematic entries in the series right before going to check out the new film, just to ensure that he or she has all the knowledge needed to catch all the references and call-backs being made. Thus, it’s no major fault of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (I’ll just call it “Part 2” from here on out, for fear of carpal tunnel syndrome kicking in after typing all those words) that this final entry into the mega-blockbuster YA franchise feels slowly paced, taking the time it needs to answer all questions posed in the previous films and wrap up all necessary “loose ends” as tidily as possible.
Part of the culprit for this sluggish feel could also be that, in my opinion, Mockingjay did not need to be split into two separate movie experiences. In the original three-novel trilogy on which these films are based, author Suzanne Collins did not make the third book longer or more dense than the first two; in fact, Book 1 (known simply as “The Hunger Games”) is 384 pages long, with Books 2 and 3 (“Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”) evenly balanced at exactly 400 pages apiece. The scent of the Hollywood cash-grab looms large in my belief of why the final installment “had to be” a two-parter, clocking in at a whopping 4 hours and 20 minutes of screen time between the two films. As a result, I think audiences are given a lot more “filler” in these two films as opposed to the first two, which leads to a very different movie-watching experience.
Part 2 picks up immediately where Part 1 left us, with Katniss dealing with both the physical and emotional toll of seeing her sorta-boyfriend Peeta brainwashed to the point where he has tried to kill her. The majority of the film follows the typical “rebels rise up to overcome the odds and overthrow the oppressors” format, with much of Katniss’ military team following well behind the front-action – a move that further adds to the lackluster vibe of the plot and pacing. Don’t get me wrong, though: the action, when it does happen, is pretty intense and engaging, it just really doesn’t do anything that audiences haven’t seen before in other films and franchises.
The cast is huge, with all of the usual suspects having returned to finish things out together. Jennifer Lawrence has transitioned from indie-film actress to full-blown Hollywood starlet over the course of The Hunger Games’ cinematic journey, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was a great actress when she first took the role and still does a fantastic job in this film of bringing Katniss Everdeen to life. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, starring as the teen-angst-sandwich for Katniss’ love life, are serviceable in their work but largely forgettable to me. Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland do a fantastic job of chewing their respective scenery as the commanders of the opposing forces; Moore as the rebellion’s “President” Coin and Sutherland as the villainous-or-is-he-really President Snow, leader of the elite hierarchy of Panem.
The folks in the smaller roles get a few moments to shine as well; most notable among these, of course, is the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his last on-screen appearance. It’s painfully obvious that Hoffman died in the middle of filming this movie, as his character, Plutarch Heavensbee, essentially disappears halfway through the narrative. A scene near the end where Plutarch was meant to console a dejected Katniss had to be completely altered, with Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy now reading a letter to Katniss from Plutarch on-screen instead. Harrelson, for his part, does a great job with the scenes he gets, as does Elizabeth Banks with her crazy-coiffed Effie Trinket. Genre fans will have fun playing a game of “Spot the Character Actress” throughout the film, as we’re given far-too-small glimpses of Breann of Tarth/Captain Phasma herself, Gwendoline Christie, as well as Battlestar Galactica’s Michelle Forbes in a military role that doesn’t come close to rivaling her general ass-kickery as Admiral Cain, the Commander of the Battlestar Pegasus (go watch the entire series, you can thank me later).
Looking back on this review, it sounds like I don’t like this movie very much, and that’s not necessarily the case. While I found it a satisfying conclusion to the Hunger Games movie experience, I think lots of savvy movie-goers, myself included, want to be more than just “satisfied” with a film series that we’ve poured years of mental and financial investment in, and that’s the biggest takeaway for me. If you’ve seen the first three films, will you not go see this fourth and final installment, regardless of what the reviews say? Of course not – you’ll go see it, and you have every right to get that closure. When it’s all said and done and the credits start to roll on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, though, audiences will likely be left wishing that the payoff was a little more substantial than what they were given.