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Josh Reviews The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 picks up the story mere moments after Part 1 left off.  Peeta has been rescued but he has been brainwashed to hate Katniss.  The rebels are escalating the fight against the tyrannical President Snow, beginning to strike hard at his military installations and close in on the capitol.  Katniss Everdeen has become the symbol of the rebellion, and she finds herself caught between her role as a figurehead (and therefore the rebellions’ leaders’ desires to keep her safe and use her only in a P.R. role to rally the people) and her hatred of Snow and desire to hunt him down and kill him.

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I have never read any of the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins.  I went to see the first film mostly because my wife, who had read the books, really wanted to see it.  I found the film to be OK, not terrible but not great.  I was far more impressed with the second film, Catching Fire.  I was surprised how much I dug that film.  Unfortunately, looking back, that was the high point of the film series for me.  I was underwhelmed by Mockingjay Part 1.  And while my wife and I felt we wanted to see Part 2 to see how it all wrapped up, neither of us was all that desperate to see it.  As a result, we waited weeks, until the movie was almost gone from theatres, before checking it out.

Whereas Katniss Everdeen was a hero in the first film, strong and moral and courageous, I was surprised by how stuck-in-a-rut the character has been ever since then.  One of the things I liked most about Catching Fire was that it explored the ramifications of Katniss’ surving that first Hunger Games.  She wasn’t able to just walk away from those horrific events — she was deeply scarred.  That worked in Catching Fire.  But three films later, Katniss’ indecision and inaction has proven very boring for me.  I like the heroes in these sorts of films to feel human — not like unbeatable, impervious super-humans — but I’m surprised by how stuck in the mud Katniss has proven to be.  It’s a weird choice.

I don’t want to spoil the film’s ending, but the last thirty minutes are the strongest part of the movie, and clearly the whole reason for telling this story.  I didn’t care one whit about which boy Katniss was going to wind up with, but I loved the developments in that last thirty minutes about the results of the rebellion and the future of Panem.  Those were some neat ideas.

But here’s the thing: for the film’s subversion at the end of the expected results of a heroic rebellion against oppression — the type of story told in many sci-fi/fantasy films like Star Wars — I would have liked to have gotten more of the expected actual story of rebellion against oppression in the rest of the film leading up to that ending.  Instead, weirdly, almost the entire rebellion against President Snow happens off-screen.  We don’t see any of it, and we never see Katniss herself leading the rebellion forces the way I’d been expecting her too since the very beginning.  Instead we see Katniss back in the rebellion’s base, or off filming PR videos.  Even when she finally decides to go find and try to kill Snow herself, she’s off on her own with a small unit of friends, totally separate from the main rebellion forces.  Imagine if Return of the Jedi spent two hours with Leia and Han on Endor with the Ewoks, and you never actually saw the attack on the Death Star or Luke’s fight against Vader and the Emperor, and were just told about those events later.  That’s what Mockingjay Part 2 felt like to me.

It’s a bummer, because the cast is still great and these four films together have presented us with an interesting fantasy world.  I would have loved to have explored this world more deeply.  I would have loved to have gotten to know this ensemble of characters better.

Had this film’s powerful ending come after a thrilling first two acts of an exciting action/adventure rebellion against sci-fi villainy, then that would have been awesome.  Sadly, that is not this film.

Some other thoughts:

* It’s sad to see the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman appearing on-screen in a new movie, such a long time after his death.  Though it’s also a thrill to get to see a few more minutes of Mr. Hoffman’s work.  He has a few great moments in the film, but then we hardly see him in the second half.  I had heard that he’d passed away with several major scenes still unfilmed.  It’s a shame, though I give great credit the filmmakers for finding a way to shape the film around Mr. Hoffman’s death in a way that his character still feels involved in the story.  I assume the device of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) reading Katniss a letter from Plutarch Heavensbee (Mr. Hoffman’s character) was created because of Mr. Hoffman’s death, but the scene works great.  Nice job to everyone involved.

* I was really bummed that Stanley Tucci’s character was barely in the film.  I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a scene, or even just a line of dialogue, to tell us what happened to his character in the end!  It’s a bizarre omission.

* I had no idea Michelle Forbes (so iconic as Ensign Ro on Star Trek: The Next Generation and as Admiral Cain in Battlestar Galactica) was in this movie, so I was very pleasantly surprised when she popped up!  I wish she’d had more to do.

* I also was delighted to see Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie pop up in a tiny role.  Wish we’d seen more of her as well.

* Although I think it was totally the wrong way to go with the narrative, the sequence in the middle of the film of Katniss & co. fighting the mutated “mutt” creatures was terrific, tense and exciting.  It was the liveliest part of the film.

* I commented above that I didn’t much care which boy Katniss wound up with, and that was true.  It’s a major failing of the film that I didn’t find myself caring all that much about either Peeta nor Gale.  Neither of them seemed to deserve Katniss.  I felt that Gale in particular was slighted by the film’s story.  If we were supposed to buy that Katniss rejected him because of how cold or twisted he’d become in the war, then a) that feels a little unfair to someone who was fighting a noble cause, and b) the film totally failed to sell that turn.  As it stands, Katniss seems pretty cold and cruel to her long-time friend at the end of the film.

* OK, SPOILERS in this bullet-point, so skip this section if you haven’t seen the film.  Still here?  OK, since it was obvious to me that those civilians were killed by the rebellion and not President Snow, Katniss seemed really dumb for not knowing that until Snow told her.  To have made Katniss seem less stupid, the scene of the explosion needed to be better staged.  Because the plane that dropped the bomb was coming from the direction of the attacking rebels, it was very clear to me that it was the rebels who dropped those bombs.  Just the simple matter of having the ship seem to come from the direction of Snow’s palace, or maybe of having some of Snow’s guards look up and express relief that reinforcements had arrived, would have better sold the fiction that it was Snow responsible for killing all those people.

There were a lot of talented men and women involved with the Hunger Games films, in front of and behind the camera.  Unfortunately, for me, this film series ended with more of a whimper than a bang.  I enjoyed watching each of these films, but I haven’t yet had the desire to re-watch any of the previous films, and I doubt this is a series I will find myself watching again, at least not anytime soon.

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