The big-screen take on The Hunger Games saga finally wraps up with Mockingjay, Part 2, and as indifferent I’ve been to this young adult-targeted franchise, this last chapter proves, if not quite rousing, then surprisingly engaging. It contains more of an emotional component, which went missing in the other installments, and helped me actually care about what happened to dystopian archer/warrior Katniss Everdeen and her merry band of resistance fighters.
Having survived an attack by friend and fellow Hunger Games winner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who was brainwashed by the capitol of the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) yearns to personally kill its leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Resistance leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) resists allowing allowing Katniss back into battle, so Katniss sneaks away and joins the resistance’s impending invasion of the Capitol.
Any initial interest I had in the series was due to its intriguing premise — teenage boys and girls from the various districts of Panem competed against each other in a televised fight to the death until only one remained. It sounded like The Running Man with a bigger budget, and held the promise of creative, big-scale post-apocalyptic action. But it didn’t quite turn out that way. The first two flicks, which should have been R-rated bloodbaths, were instead diluted to PG-13 to appeal to a broader audience, and the the third one just lumbered along for two-and-half-hours.
That Mockingjay, Part 2 held my attention at all despite its 137-minute running time is probably because of the overall story coming to an end. Stuff was actually happening, action and otherwise. Mind you, this would have occurred no matter who was directing. Studios seem to want these young-adult sci-fi tomes adapted to the screen with minimum artistic fuss, and director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), as he did with the two previous Games flicks, does nothing to buck the trend. He gets the story told and applies little, if any, style, even if he does make the set pieces here more energetic than I expected.
What sold me on this one, more so than in the previous installments, were the performances, Lawrence’s and Sutherland’s in particular. As Katniss, Lawrence has always looked kickass-cool in her leather archer outfits, but never have I felt for her or her cause as much as I did here, so well does she convey Katniss’s anguish and anger over all the death and destruction and political maneuvering around her. Sutherland features in far fewer scenes, but still manages to create a wonderfully regal and menacing character. In his lone scene with Lawrence in the Capitol’s arboretum, you truly wonder if he’s lying to her or trying to manipulate her.
Hutcherson also registers strongly, and the silver-locked Moore works well enough as the overly image-conscious rebel leader. And plot-wise, it helps that Lawrence (the director) turns Katniss’s Capitol trek itself into a Hunger Games-like endurance test, giving the film some welcome structure. On a more poignant note, the film most likely marks the last screen appearance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. As Plutarch Heavensbee, former Head Gamemaker, he appears not very often, but just enough to remind us how much his considerable talent will be missed. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 3/22/16