Wednesday, November 25, 2015

To Kill A Mockingjay

Year: 2015
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Run Time: 2 hours 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

So, here we are at the end of yet another YA franchise, possibly the last teen lit blockbuster for a good long while, unless The 5th Wave pulls a Hail Mary opening weekend. The second half of the obligatorily split finale of the Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay – Part 2 has no right to be as spectacularly bland as it is. The Hunger Games movies had been steadily improving, and when Mockingjay – Part 1 converted the worst half of the most insipid book into a gritty triumph of revolutionary filmmaking that tapped into the sociopolitical id of contemporary American culture, it seemed that the adaptation of the good half could only be a nigh-on masterpiece.

Alas. Katniss giveth and Katniss taketh away.

In case you couldn’t manage to get through the book, here’s the plot. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for the 13 rebelling districts of Panem, a dystopian future America ruled by the iron fist of the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Rebellion leader President Coin (Julianne Moore, whose filmography is a profound mystery) wants to use Katniss as a figurehead, but the proud young girl sneaks off to the front lines to assassinate Snow in revenge for his torture of her Games partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Oh, and all that iron fist stuff. That too.

In the background, a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) quietly picks at its nails, waiting for somebody to care. Yadda yadda, Katniss, Gale, and Peeta end up infiltrating the war-torn Capitol with fisherman soldier Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and a troop of meatbag soldiers who aren’t sexy teens and can thus explode as needed to prove that the Capitol is indeed a very dangerous place.

Where’s Finnick? Odair he is.

The biggest triumph of Mockingjay – Part 1 is that it toned down literary Katniss’ tendency to screech like a hormonal parrot and break down sobbing in closets, in addition to the inclusion of several major scenes of war and rebellion that were not present in the source material. Inexplicably, despite featuring the exact same cast and crew (I’d be surprised if the end credits weren’t just cut and pasted back in), Mockingjay – Part 2 takes one look at those successes and tells them shove it, happily leaping into the mire of relentless moping and tedium.

I thought this portion of the story would be salvageable because it’s where most of the action takes place, but the painfully devoted adaptation merely results in holding the novel’s most glaring flaws under a 30 foot high microscope. Perhaps the most notorious is the stilted romance angle, which trudges ever onward, asking dazzling feats of chemistry from actors who could hardly care less and never actually giving Katniss a realistic choice between the two. And then there’s her bleating, asinine morality. 

Somehow the girl who wants to rip out Snow’s throat with her bare teeth and [SPOILERS publicly assassinates a woman during a well-attended ceremony] has a problem using TWO bombs against the enemy. I don’t condone any kind of killing and her stance on protecting civilians is airtight, but this sullen, hypocritical mewling is a trademark of an author who has completely lost control of her character. The movie happily hits this point over and over again, signed and dated in triplicate.

It’s all immensely frustrating, but the worst holdover from the novel is that, by focusing on Katniss’ POV, the story is robbed of a climax. The expanded scope of Part 1 gave me hope that Mockingjay would evade the same pitfalls, but alas. Instead of watching a finale, we gag on twenty minutes of slowly softening treacle.

Just in time for the holidays.

The one thing that could have saved Mockingjay – Part 2 is the action that permeates the second act. Despite one genuinely thrilling underground battle, the stakes here are lower than the Mariana Trench. Character deaths are flat and perfunctory, the narrative throughline is more than meaningless, and the film is all too keen to return to those moments of down time so Katniss can wring her hands about her dubious moral compass and which boy she would rather smooch.

Like it’s a hard decision.

However, it’s a disappointment, not a waste of time. If you’ve gotten this far through the series, you might as well finish it off. It won’t hurt you, it might just sting a little bit. Although almost ever shred of its potential is wasted (just like franchise icon Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett, whose screentime is so short, it’s almost physically impossible to see her), there is still a great deal of talent poured into realizing this juvenile vision of a futuristic dystopia.

For one, the set design by Philip Messina is a delight, depicting a heavily stylized land of opulent decadence that has been laid to waste with detailed care. The mighty, off-kilter structures that dominate the screen are just as imposing as the sadistic regime they represent, and the empty streets of the comfort class paint a desolately gorgeous pictures.

Never mind the fact that its occupants are just sci-fi hipsters.

The cinematography, by third-timer Jo Willems is also a standout,. Though there are far fewer breathtaking compositions than his previous entries, he almost saves the crappy cop-out climax with some preternaturally beautiful framing that calls the film’s themes to mind far more effectively than its characters’ hemming and hawing.

Overall, Mockingjay- Part 2 is a serviceable popcorn flick, though it’s hardly ever a likable one. Just like Katniss, who packs a dozen arrows for a war, the film leaps into the fray totally unprepared for the trials to come. It caps off the series in a sufficiently basic way so it won’t anger fans, but as an ending to an increasingly promising film franchise, it falls dreadfully flat. I thought I knew why the caged bird sang, but now that chirpy tune has become a solemn funeral march. Goodbye Panem, and good riddance.

TL;DR: Mockingjay - Part 2 is a dull, inadequate end to an exponentially improving franchise.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1038
Reviews In This Series
Catching Fire (Lawrence, 2013)
Mockingjay - Part 1 (Lawrence, 2014)
Mockingjay - Part 2 (Lawrence, 2015)


  1. Man, I think your 6/10's are lower than my 6/10's...

    Although I am in no way surprised that The Hunger Games continues to at least *sort* of suck. Personally, I've still managed to avoid the third, although its omnipresence on streaming services makes me feel like I'm actively being negligent by *not* watching it.

    P.S. I think the solution to the mystery of Julianne Moore is that "she likes money." As I heard it, she was afraid that, as she got older, her career would collapse (Hollywood sexism and all). Fortunately, she was wrong. But even though to the best of my knowledge she doesn't *need* it, I guess "getting paid a lot for little" just gets into your blood. (Alternatively, she likes to keep a high profile and maintain her stardom, to raise awareness of the projects she actually cares about.)

    However, although she's not starring in this one, it reminds me that the new Todd Haynes movie isn't getting a wide release till who-knows-when, and that makes me sad.

    1. 6/10 is the toughest score for me. If it's a basically competent movie that I kinda dislike, it usually ends up there.