The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the fourth and thankfully, final film in the Hunger Games’ series, ends not with a bang, but with a long, drawn-out, unsatisfying whimper, the result of poor, underdeveloped artistic choices, some, if not many, made by novelist Suzanne Collins, returning co-adapters Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and director Francis Lawrence (staying stubbornly faithful to Collins’ deeply flawed third novel), and an ill-conceived, poorly executed idea to split the Mockingjay adaptation into two bloated, distended parts rather than a single standalone film as originally intended. That choice wasn’t an artistic or aesthetic one. It was purely driven by commercial considerations, the desire by Lionsgate, the Hunger Games’ rights owner, to extract as much box-office revenue as possible from audiences (see, e.g., the Harry Potter series, Twilight, The Hobbit “trilogy”) before fickle and/or indifferent moviegoers turn their attention, not to mention their ticket purchasing decisions, to another YA adaptation or barring that, whatever Marvel and/or DC (among other potentially long-running, never-ending studio-owned series or franchises) have to offer.
Ultimately, however, box-office numbers only matter if you own Lionsgate stock or otherwise financially invested. Mockingjay Part 2 has to stand or fall on its own. While Mockingjay Part 2 wraps up every plot and subplot, every character’s fate and future, it also fails to make most, if not all, of those wrap-ups into anything resonant or meaningful beyond the transitory, temporary pleasures typical of mass entertainment. That didn’t have to be the case, of course, and the first shot, an abrupt continuation of Part 1’s downbeat final scene — a recently rescued, brainwashed Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, surprisingly better here than in the first three entries) attempting to murder Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), his once and future love interest — as a bruised, battered Katniss undergoes a painful medical examination. Unfortunately, the media res opening promises far more than Mockingjay Part 2 delivers, as the final entry in the series shunts Katniss to the sidelines once again at practically every key moment, leaving secondary or even tertiary characters to defeat the authoritarian, autocratic rulers of the Capitol. Katniss’ views of fighting a just war against the Capitol and minimizing losses puts her in open conflict with best friend/romantic interest/block of wood, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, a charisma-free emotionless blank). He’s fully committed to completely defeating the Capitol regardless of the human cost (“collateral damage,” a euphemism that should be expunged from the English language).
It takes the better part of an hour before Katniss, showing the agency that made her a 21st century YA heroine, decides to decamp for the Capitol expressly against the wishes of Alma “Cruella de” Coin (Julianne Moore), District 13’s president and the de facto leader of the rebellion against the Capitol. Coin and her chief advisor, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, much missed), prefer to keep Katniss safe and sound, in their underground bunker, a symbol of the revolution and propaganda tool rather than an actual fighter or leader. Despite her qualms about killing and the wasteful consequences of war, not to mention her surface uneasiness as a revolutionary Joan of Arc-inspired symbol, Katniss decides to venture into the Capitol, a war zone as the rebellion’s ground troops steadily advance toward the city center and the virtual/actual seat of power, President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) mansion, to assassinate Snow herself. It’s a foolish, thoughtless plan likely doomed to failure, but it’s the only one Collins had in mind and the only one Mockingjay Part 2’s adapters could use.
Seeing opportunity where none previously existed, Coin hastily orders a super-squad of sorts, including Gale and a shackled, still recovering Peeta, to accompany Katniss into the city center, ostensibly to film her and her exploits miles behind the actual action to boost (rebels) or lower (loyalist) morale. Of course, the opposite happens as so-called “pods” (aka booby-traps) littered around the city’s edge eliminate newly introduced, barely remembered squad members by ones and twos (or more). One character ruefully name checks the Hunger Games (as in they’re now participating in the 76th edition of said games minus the national syndication), but the traps, minus a photorealistically rendered wall of black oil that descends on the super-squad early on and an underground encounter with mutant extras borrowed from Resident Evil or The Descent, fail to equal anything found in the first and second entries. What follows, however, is nothing less than one ill-judged disappointment after another, culminating in the multiple endings problems that tend to beset final series’ entries.
Despite the best CG-enhanced explosions Hollywood money can buy (still far short of what the U.S. military and its gargantuan $700B annual budget can and has done in the real world), Mockingjay Part 2 is an ultimately a grim, depressing slog, focusing as much as what Katniss has lost, including who and what she thought she was, and less on what she and the world of Panem gained through rebelling against the Capitol. Maybe Mockingjay Part 2 should be commended for taking the road less traveled narratively and thematically, sidelining Katniss when, by all expectations, she should be at the center, as well as the critique of politics (corrupt elites) and the media (also corrupt or at least corruptible, used to manipulate, neuter, and pacify public opinion), not to mention the focus, however proscribed by the studio- and market-driven PG-13 rating, on showing the messy, compromised side of war and its devastating, long-lasting consequences to YA audiences. Then again, execution matters too, sometimes more than intention. There’s little excuse for Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 limping to an emotionally and dramatically unsatisfying finale, especially after more than two hours of screen time.