The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

November 26, 2015
Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2' (2015)
Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2' (2015)

After four gruelling installments the lucrative Hunger Games franchise has finally ground to a halt. Just as The Hobbit had to be extruded into a trilogy, with the entire third part based on only a few pages of the actual book, so too has Suzanne Collins’s young adult series been stretched beyond the point of artistic justification by mere corporate greed.

The Hunger Games is what might be termed a “Hollywood Trilogy” – ie. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Three, second part. Yes, it’s hard to let a good thing go, especially if you’ve already enjoyed box office revenues of US$2.6 billion.

I felt the sequence came alive with the second film, Catching Fire, which spent an unusually long time developing the characters. Yet what passed for depth in this movie seemed merely ponderous in the third film, Mockingjay Part One, which was hardly more than the preamble to a grand finale. Now that finale has arrived and it’s even darker and more portentous than its predecessor.

The last three films have been directed by the relatively unknown Francis Lawrence, who made a promising start before letting the story descend into a pit of gloom. In the first two installments we were conscious of a satirical element implying that the gladiatorial Hunger Games might be only a logical extension of Reality TV. These were also films that could be decoded as an allegory of teenage life, with a group of idealistic young people perpetually at the mercy of malevolent adults.

These aspects withered away in the third film. In this final installment there seems to be only one message: “War is hell”.

As with the previous movie there is no attempt to recap the events of the story. We drop straight back into Panem – a fictionalised, dystopian version of the United States – as the war against President Snow’s dictatorial regime enters its last phase. The rebels have conquered all but the Capital, which is defended by a host of deadly devices.

Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), is the Mockingjay – a living symbol of resistance whose fame has been instrumental in rallying the twelve districts of Panem behind the rebels. Katniss believes in action rather than symbolism, but the rebel leader, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) aims to keep her off the frontline. This is not out of concern for Katniss’s welfare, but to dampen her prospects as a potential rival when the war is over.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died while the film was in production, is skilfully integrated into the rebel leadership group. In his truncated role as advisor, Plutarch Heavensbee, he still manages to play an ambiguous hand. One wonders, though, if his final words to Katniss, delivered in the form of a letter, might originally have been intended as a speech.

Not content with being part of the propaganda battle, Katniss is determined to settle scores in person with President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She sneaks on board a supply plane and soon finds herself entering the Capital with a team of crack fighters. Every step of the way seems to be booby-trapped, with each new ‘pod’ more dangerous than the last. The group fights its way through the ruined streets of the city, the underground passages and sewers, their numbers steadily diminishing. At the very end there is another twist in the tale, albeit a predictable one.

Throughout this grisly procession of death we are asked to ponder the love triangle between Katniss, her longterm admirer, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), and Peeta Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson), who has been retrieved from President Snow’s clutches but remains brainwashed and prone to bursts of manic aggression. Which of these dull fellows will she choose? Once again, it’s not hard to predict.

Allowing for a few genuine thrill there is a plodding inevitability in the way Katniss fights her way towards President Snow’s mansion. Despite an attempt at an optimistic ending, Mockingjay Part 2 is possibly the most depressing film I’ve seen all year. It’s alarming to think this is a movie for ‘young adults’ – a term that carries unconvincing suggestions of innocence and naivete. One hopes the adolescent mind is not susceptible to excessive morbidity.

The saving grace, as always, is Jennifer Lawrence, who has the ability to make a blank expression convey a complex raft of emotions. She can look virginal or sexy by turns, be the girl-next-door or a screen idol. Yet even Lawrence’s appeal is tested by a part that obliges her to be continuously tragic and troubled. Katniss and her friends may be engaged in a struggle to the death with a bloodthirsty tyrant, but the story unfolds monotonously between bursts of violent action and special effects. The final scenes feel as contrived as any old-fashioned ‘Hollywood ending’, with Katniss’s credentials as a feminist icon being quietly buried.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Peter Craig & Danny Strong, after a novel by Suzanne Collins
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Symour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson
USA, rated M, 137 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 28th November, 2015.