“Nothing can prepare you for the end”. So says the poster tagline for (deep breath) The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2; a tagline evidently written by someone miraculously unaware that these movies are based on a series of bestselling novels, making preparing for the end actually quite easy. I haven’t read these books, but, as I advised this time last year when writing up Part 1, I’ve become a convert of the films. They have, for me, improved with each instalment, deepening the narrative while also having pertinent things to say about the times we live in. So what of the end? How does it measure up?
Much has been made of the decision to split Suzanne Collins’ trilogy-closer into two films, and while Part 1 managed, against the odds, to feel partway like its own entity, Part 2 flounders for a little while. It’s ungainly and prone to fits and starts. There is surely nobody arriving at this film as a newcomer. If anyone is, I can’t help but wonder what they will make of it. It seems to suffer deeply from being only part of a structured narrative, much more so than its predecessor. Nevertheless, for those who’ve journeyed this far, there’s plenty to get stuck into.
We pick up where we left off, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) nursing her wounds following an attack by the brainwashed Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who has seemingly been transformed into President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) personal attack-dog. With the resistance gaining momentum, Katniss surges forward like a force of sheer vengeance, gunning for Snow’s head. Rebel district president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) shrewdly realises there is little she can do to thwart the will of their figurehead; whatever Katniss chooses to do, they’ll take the credit for it.
With Snow emptying the Capital, Katniss and a team of familiar faces press ever inward, having to avoid a new set of elaborate traps (called ‘pods’ because… okay). The landscape of Mockingjay Part 2 is perpetually that of war-torn streets reduced to rubble, making this tentative march toward confrontation feel like a young adult retread of the ending of Full Metal Jacket. Except, y’know, with oil floods and sewer monsters.
The film hits its dramatic peak in the middle in said sewers, a protracted sequence that allows both a well judged breather for Katniss and Peeta to build bridges, followed by a sequence of palpable tension. It’s only a shame that this section is capped with an attack which feels like something out of another franchise completely. Perhaps readers of the books will be better prepared for this rapid and inexplicable descent into horror movie territory. As a casual fan of these films it felt bizarre and inexplicable.
As the series bows out with a select few on a last mission, there’s an inevitable narrowing of focus. The Hunger Games has a large cast, and because of this funnelling process, some fan-favourites get a little lost in the shuffle (if your favourite character was Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, prepare to be disappointed). Yet it allows other players more time at the table. Liam Hemsworth’s second tier love interest Gale finally feels like he has some presence in the story, even if it’s an opportunity he makes little use out of.
Because, as ever, this is Jennifer Lawrence’s show. This series has been her starmaker, and she’s played it whole heartedly throughout. She’s as committed to the part here as ever, and it’s a shame that the eventual shape of the story allows her precious little sparring time with Sutherland, whose poisonous fox-like villain feels curiously marginalised. When the finale comes, that tagline suddenly feels a lot more truthful. I had expected a traditional confrontation. But Mockingjay Part 2 has other plans.
Some have bemoaned the film for its ‘many’ endings, likening it to the perceived bloat at the end of The Return Of The King. I wouldn’t say it suffered like that exactly. It’s a far greater sense of anticlimax that applies to the final hour as a whole much more than just specifically these final scenes. Nevertheless boxes are ticked, the narrative is tied up. It’s just that after all these films, all these hours, was this really where we were headed?
Which perhaps leads me to why I feel this film is somewhat underwhelming. Since the turn of millennium, ‘boxset binging’ has become a common, sometimes even preferred, method of ingesting serialised TV shows, made prevalent first through DVD before streaming sites made it the norm. This is a huge change to the way long form storytelling is being enjoyed, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood tried to capture the same trend, as evidenced by the Harry Potter franchise (which spearheaded these split finales, it’s worth pointing out). Sure, there were film franchises before this, but previously these were designed so that individual instalments could be watched and enjoyed independently.
Modern franchises offer no such security. If you’re in, you’re in for the long haul. But the narratives aren’t being bent to the framework. As such I’m sure Mockingjay Part 2 will probably feel much more satisfying when marathoned with its brethren (the 4 film boxset should be with us for next Christmas). Director Francis Lawrence has ensured that it feels tonally and visually of a piece with the previous films. But, standing alone in the present cinematic arena, this final chapter feels like what it is; a sliver of something larger grappling nervously for context.
The examination of war as a propaganda machine feels as timely this year as it did last, yet overall one gets a strange sense that Mockingjay will be best viewed and loved from an armchair on a hungover Sunday, so long as its unrelenting darkness doesn’t prove ‘a bit much’ for those delicate occasions.