Given my love for The Hunger Games books and appreciation for the previous movie adaptations, I had high hopes for the final installment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (Lionsgate, November 2015; PG-13 — see the Mockingjay, Part 1 review here). Sad to say, I was disappointed.
Obviously, spoilers ahead for both movie and novel.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in the hospital in underground District 13, having been attacked by a “hijacked” Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). While doctors attempt to de-program Peeta, Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), President Coin (Julianne Moore), Gamemaker-turned-political-advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final role), Lt. Boggs (Mahershala Ali), and techy mastermind Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) plan their next move against tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
They team up with Commander Paylor (Patina Miller) of District 8 to take out a District 2 armory crucial to the Capitol. During the planning stages of this attack, Gale proves himself to be cunning and callous about civilian lives, which troubles Katniss. When she tries to make an alliance with District 2 survivors after the attack, she gets shot by one of them and ends up back in the hospital.
Recovered, and determined to kill Snow herself, Katniss stows away on a hovercraft headed for the front lines. Coin attempts to turn Katniss’s actions to her own advantage, sending first Lt. Boggs and the propo (as in –ganda) team, then Peeta to join her. Katniss and co. navigate the Capitol-turned-arena — with hazards such as explosions, Peacekeepers, and muttations at every turn — hoping to get close enough to Snow for Katniss to assassinate him. Not least of these dangers is Peeta, only partially re-conditioned.
Katniss and Gale, disguised among Capitol refugees, head to the Presidential Mansion. They arrive just as the resistance forces do; waves of bombs kill many civilians…including Katniss’s sister, Prim (Willow Shields). After Coin suggests another Hunger Games to punish the Capitol, it’s Coin Katniss kills, not Snow. Back in District 12, Katniss and a rehabilitated Peeta haltingly begin to build a new life together.
Much of what the film does, it does well. The tension, high from the beginning, ratchets up and up. Like the other films in the series, Mockingjay Part 2 is visually stunning. The films’ stark visual contrast between the luxurious Capitol and the impoverished, oppressed Districts has always been disturbing; here we see the contrast between the Capitol pre- and post-war, which is equally distressing. Katniss and her fellow revolutionaries — not including Gale, of course — often declare that their fight is with Snow, not with the citizens of the Capitol, and the film emphasizes this distinction by humanizing those frivolous-seeming people.
The pallid, ravenous mutts who overtake the team in flooded tunnels are truly frightening, with unearthly creature design and uncanny movements more akin to something out of Pan’s Labyrinth than the goofy-looking pitbull-ish animals of the first Games.
So why my disappointment?
The film remains pretty faithful to the novel’s plotline and dialogue — but, for the most part, without evoking the wrenching emotions the book does. Moments are often overplayed. At the wedding of Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Annie (Stef Dawson), for example, an extra-long, dizzying shot of Katniss and Prim hugging on the dance floor just feels manipulative.
Gale’s pouting over Katniss grows to awkward levels; there were quite a few instances of audience giggling during his more schmoopy moments. The worst: a scene in which Katniss overhears Gale earnestly telling Peeta that he should have taken Peeta’s place in the Games. Gale supposes it will be Katniss’s “problem” to choose between them if all three survive. Though the dialogue here is straight out of the novel, Hemsworth’s delivery is so emo that it’s difficult to take him seriously. (Not to mention that Katniss has more options than a relationship with one of these two emotionally damaged boys, such as being happily single, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, Hemsworth shows more restraint in a scene late in the movie where Katniss confronts him about his possible role in the bombing that killed Prim.
Snarky victors Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Joanna (Jena Malone) do provide some levity, but we see so little of these characters that these lighter moments don’t do much to balance out the drama.
I was interested to learn that my movie-going companion (who has seen all of the previous films, but not read the books) interpreted Katniss’s relationships with Presidents Snow and Coin very differently than I (a long-time book fan) did. I read Snow’s assertions that Coin framed him for dropping bombs on Capitol children as straight fact — after all, Snow himself says, “I thought we agreed not to lie to each other, Katniss.” But my companion saw this as more manipulation on Snow’s part, the lies of a man determined to have the last laugh on his adversaries. Intentional ambiguity, or just unclear storytelling? My companion also felt that Coin’s development into a villain was too abrupt and unsupported; thus Katniss’s assassination of her was motivated by revenge for Prim’s death, not Coin’s actions. I went in knowing Coin’s fate and already had made my judgment as to her nature.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we’ve reached a point of YA dystopian oversaturation. Two of the five or six previews we saw were for adaptations of YA dystopian series entries (The 5th Wave, the first in a trilogy; and Allegiant, the final Divergent movie). After the Allegiant trailer, my companion joked, “Isn’t that the movie we’re here to see?” Ouch.
If we’re burned out on dystopian fiction, that’s not Mockingjay, Part 2‘s fault. But as, arguably, the series that kicked off the current dystopian craze (and, I think, still one of the best series in the subgenre), The Hunger Games trilogy stands out among the crowd. It deserved a more satisfying on-screen wrap-up than it receives here.
Don’t miss Siân’s thoughts about that epilogue. This post is part of our Hunger Games Week. Click on the tags Hunger Games Week and Hunger Games to see all posts. For more in our Fan Week series, click on the tag Fan Week 2016 and see #HBFanWeek on Twitter.