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Entries in Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 [2015] (1)

Sunday
Nov222015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

Famine Fortune

Many people contend that the last two Hunger Games movies, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, could have been condensed into one film--just as the novel on which they were based was a single work. I'll go further and suggest that the entire four-film series should have been reduced to two films. The final chapter in Katniss Everdeen's (Jennifer Lawrence) quest to defeat the cruel, opulent empire of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) reaches its predictable end long after the people behind it had anything interesting to say. Just like Harry Potter, The Matrix, Twilight, The Fast and the Furious, and half a dozen other big-studio cash cows, The Hunger Games persisted because it was too big a brand not to--not because it was a story that needed four two-plus-hour installments to tell.

Here's a fan-edit challenge for any time-having techie types out there: Create a direct follow-up to 2012's The Hunger Games, using only footage from Catching Fire and the two Mockingjay chapters, and keep it under two hours and fifteen minutes. My guess is you'll axe about seventy percent of the characters introduced after the first film and still have a breezy, tension filled narrative that makes a decent amount of sense.

Onto the film at hand: Katniss and her band of rebels march on the Capitol, under the watchful eye of both President Snow and resistance leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore). Snow has ordered a phased evacuation of the city and laid an extensive network of cruel booby traps designed for maximum carnage. It's an unofficial Hunger Games whose stakes break from the shackles of reality TV to the very fate of mankind.

Threats come from without and within, as Coin saddles Katniss with the brainwashed, emotionally imbalanced Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). After being "rescued" from Capitol captivity, he nearly strangled his would-be girlfriend to death. Coin's aim is to use the Capitol's former prop as her own inspirational tool, ensuring that he's at Katniss' side when the old regime collapses. It would be a great idea, were it not for the fact that Peeta alternates between confused lovesick puppy and drooling, blood-hungry maniac--oh, and if Coin were not a moustache-twirling, plain-sight villain from the get-go.

Though author Suzanne Collins and her legions of ardent readers deny that The Hunger Games drew any inspiration from Battle Royale, overlooking significant similarities between the two works takes a gargantuan act of will. I've addressed this concern before, and won't get back into it now, except to say that Mockingjay Part 2 suffers from ripple effects of the first film/book's original sin. For every semi-new idea the filmmakers put forth, there are half a dozen others that clearly come from other places. The trap that floods an entire city block with crude oil (and nasty strangulating wires beneath) is a terrific visual and presents our heroes with a genuine geographical dilemma. A few scenes later, Katniss and company find themselves in a network of sewers, fighting mutant creatures that look like a hybrid of Resident Evil zombies and the xenomorphs from Alien. Worse yet, the entire scene is a (poor) retread of a one from the worst of the Alien sequels, Resurrection.

Instead of wasting time on these diversions, the film would have been much better served by actually showing us the big battle that we'd been waiting nearly six hours to see. That's right, at the precise moment of catharsis, Katniss is knocked unconscious--only to be revived sometime later and filled in on the gruesome details of a major conflict. It happened at the end of Catching Fire, and it happens again here. Seriously, I wondered if a reel had gone missing.*

What follows is more boring political treachery than the Star Wars prequels and just about as many fake-out endings as The Return of the King. There's a glimmer of hope in a five-minute sequence wherein Snow meets his fate, but that's all down to Sutherland's wicked yet somehow resigned performance. For her part, Lawrence is once again the reluctant, monotone savior whose inability to think things through would have spelled certain death for any other character in the series. A screaming meltdown directed at her sister's pet cat towards the end of the film offers some left-field hilarity, as Lawrence seems desperate to remind viewers that she has a legit career outside the realm of glossy tween actioners.

The Hunger Games sequels lack focus, and Mockingjay Part 2 is the most scattershot of them all. What began as a well-intentioned satire of American media and its shielding of government insidiousness has morphed into a metaphor-quagmire that's now broad enough to encompass the Tea Party, ISIS, and probably the PTA. I'm all for films that wade into ambiguity, but the good ones have a sense of what they actually want to say--instead of simply tossing out ideas and asking the audience, "What do you think it's all about?" Sorry, but I didn't pay twelve bucks for a Rorschach test. What's say you lay a solid foundation and we'll build this house together?

Katniss and the rebels began as government subjects forced to kill one another for the amusement of a fat, comfortable, and secluded middle class. By the time Mockingjay draws to an end, they are an outside invading force masquerading as refugees to attack the, um, white house that represents the center of world power. Granted the filmmakers couldn't have known just how topical their YA movie would prove to be on its release, but the revolution's unsure footing makes for a conflicted viewing experience--and not in a good way. Maybe if Katniss had been smart enough or brave enough to work out just how severely she was being played from all sides, the film might have pursued a route that wasn't so outright distasteful (and, in the end, cowardly, thanks to the aforementioned trimming of the Climactic Battle). Instead, we're left to wonder if The Hunger Games is actually a metaphor for anything, or if it's just half-baked entertainment aimed at teens who haven't yet discovered real books.

Maybe I just expect too much from movies that claim to be about things. The web of global politics is too confusing, bloody, and subjective to relegate to even a hundred-part miniseries, but that just means those looking to tackle such lofty ideas in a mainstream context need to have their ducks in a row. By introducing too many zero-hour characters and contrivances; by focusing on a three-way relationship that ultimately goes nowhere (story-wise or emotionally); and by pumping more money and hot air into something that was never really designed to grow past a certain point, the people behind this series have done a real disservice to the ideas that sparked the sensation in the first place. In the end, we're left with a disposable juggernaut that will fuel endless disposable juggernauts for the fat, comfortable, secluded, and increasingly scarce middle class to consume. We are all Snow's passive, monotone subjects now, for whom "revolution" is just a buzzword.

*I quickly realized that reels don't exist anymore in the first-run realm.