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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II - An Ambitious Effort Marred By Its Own Design
With all of these Young Adult adaptations being split into two parts it’s amazing that HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS was actually somehow able to pull it off. This is, I believe, because of the sheer size of that book, there was enough material to be stretched over two films. Unfortunately, many other adaptations; including TWILIGHT, THE HUNGER GAMES, and DIVERGENT followed suit.
I don’t think THE HUNGER GAMES series was successful at the split, while DEATHLY HALLOWS was a big book, MOCKINGJAY was considerably smaller. Spreading the material out resulted in pacing issues and character arcs getting muddled. MOCKINGJAY PART II is about as good as MOCKINGJAY PART I, so if you are ride or die at this point, you might as well see the series through. As a movie it is fractured, character arcs don’t really stand on their own, and the pacing is entirely off. Nothing happens until everything happens.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) sneaks into an assault on the capitol, accompanied by Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Boggs (Mahershala Ali), and eventually a deranged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Threads building up within the past three films converge in a bloodbath. Something I have liked in the past HUNGER GAMES films, and MOCKINGJAY PART II, are the performances. The script doesn’t give many of these performers much to do (sans Lawrence, more on her in a moment), but you can only dump some of that on the actors, most (*most*) all of them are very appealing, and effective when given the opportunity.
The movie’s first big mistake is in its pacing. Due to the split, MOCKINGJAY PART II tries to make an entire movie of what really is just a third act of a different, much better movie. So the actions scenes that would normally be there are present, but so are scenes covering character relations and motivations that have already been established in prior films are there to pad the film to its two hour run time. In a film called THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART II, you don’t need to establish that these two men are in love with Jennifer Lawrence or that Jennifer Lawrence wants to put Donald Sutherland’s head on a pike. Odds are most audiences will and have gone in having seen the other films.
The love triangle: I wish there was a purpose for the love triangle. I remember reading through the three HUNGER GAMES books and really enjoying them for the most part, but I always questioned the point of the love triangle. I might have enjoyed it more in the films if Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth had any chemistry with Lawrence. Hutcherson’s a fine actor, but he and Lawrence have always seemed a little flat together. The way the love story aspect ends seems more akin to Katniss cutting her losses and saying “screw it.” This is fine on its own, but it is a payoff undeserving of four films of buildup. The love triangle was never very well developed, the reason Harry and Ron having love interests in the later HARRY POTTER films works is that they had been set up basically from film one. In HUNGER GAMES, Katniss’ affection of Peeta didn’t seem like a romance in bloom. He was either a key to move the plot forward or a tool for her character development. All this going on while Liam Hemsworth’s Gale was just…there. The films have wanted us to think he’s a major character but he’s always seemed like an afterthought. MOCKINGJAY PART II does not work to change this (and Hemsworth’s acting doesn’t help).
A big problem with MOCKINGJAY is that it’s too loyal to its source material. There are two crucial scenes in this film, and once they’re through, the viewer isn’t sure who is alive and who is dead or even what really just happened. There is one scene in particular, when the characters are in a tunnel, and there is a bout with several monsters. You cannot tell who is who during the entirety of this scene, the shaky-cam is so overused, and the lighting is way too dark. This series has always struggled with shaky-cam, because by adapting this trilogy, they’ve always been a hair-trigger away from getting an R rating. They can’t have the action scenes be too cohesive because some of the things that are happening are horrific.
There are some lines in the script that bothered me, for example some characters would get a whole lot of development right before their big death scene, or some characters who should have had a presence in the movie don’t get enough screen time only to become a pivotal aspect of the plot later.
With all my complaining, one could be forgiven for wondering why I even bothered with THE HUNGER GAMES as a film series. Despite all of these complaints, I do still like MOCKINGJAY PART II, if only because the core components of the film still work. I enjoy Katniss, as I have in the past three films, her exhaustion seems appropriate, and Jennifer Lawrence is dignified and likable. She takes scenes that could have been laughable and makes them passable.
I like the politics of the film, albeit a lot of it is just layover from the last movie. I like the comparison drawn between Julianne Moore’s President Coin and Donald Sutherlands’ President Snow, and there’s a scene involving the both of them that is probably the strongest in the film. I like how the film’s big theme is that the primary motivation of leaders in war is to replace one system of oppression with their own.
Despite all of the problems with all four HUNGER GAMES films, I left MOCKINGJAY PART II almost lamenting the fact that I wasn’t going to see any more in the theater. The films that are apparent masterpieces are always nice, but the popcorn films that are enjoyable despite their litany of apparent faults are also infinitely fascinating.