Katniss 2

“Mockingjay Part 2” Misses Its Target

A brutal plotline and heavy themes have always made The Hunger Games a complicated series. Suzanne Collins’ dystopian story about a girl at the center of a rebellion is expertly nuanced with social commentary that makes it a standout in its genre. It’s a shame, then, that the final film installment feels rather dull.

After the immense popularity of the books, The Hunger Games got the Hollywood treatment in 2012, kickstarting a franchise that would make a huge success out of its cast. Starring as the arrow-slinging heroine Katniss Everdeen was Jennifer Lawrence, now an A-lister and recently named Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainer of the Year. Beside her was Josh Hutcherson as the earnest baker Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as the brooding Gale. Rounding out the cast was Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, both perfect fits for their quirky portrayals of Haymitch and Effie, respectively.

The Hunger Games was most successful when it focused on just that: the games. In a post-apocalyptic world where children are forced to kill each other for sport, the first two installments of the series were packed with themes about the media and big government. By the time we reach Mockingjay, Katniss has incited a full-scale rebellion movement as factions throughout the districts have gone to war. As the series draws near its conclusion, the wellbeing of an entire civilization is at stake, but the significance of it all gets lost in translation from book to film.

The first downfall of Mockingjay is that it was split into two films. The first half, originally released in 2014, functioned mostly as a prequel to the big finale. It introduced us to President Coin (Julianne Moore), who led the rebellion and turned Katniss into a propaganda figure now destined to shoot videos instead of arrows. Nothing overly significant really occurs and the film struggled to stand on its own, but the trade off was supposed to be an incredibly impactful Mockingjay Part 2 that throws us right into the action.

This formula has worked well in other adaptations, most notably the Harry Potter series. The problem here is that the first half of Mockingjay Part 2 felt exactly like its counterpart: there was a lot of walking, a lot of talking, and very little actually happening. Again, we watched Katniss struggle with her role in the rebellion. Again, we watched Katniss hesitate between choosing Peeta and choosing Gale. Everything felt recycled and even a little boring.

Katniss 1Given the life and death circumstances of the plot, boring isn’t really an ideal quality for the film to have, but I found myself struggling to stay engaged. Things don’t really pick up until Katniss announces her plan to sneak onto the frontlines and assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) herself. Finally we get some action (not to mention a particularly dreaded character death), but even this feels dulled down and rushed past. The film fails to linger on any emotional beat for too long, and we’re left feeling unattached to any of the characters.

Technical aspects of the film also didn’t do it any favors. The effort to make everything dark and gloomy as a reflection of the times was a poor substitute for an actual execution of the themes—mostly, it just made some of the scenes hard to see. The series has successfully used music in the past (the four-note whistle is especially recognizable), but seemed to underuse a lot of its scores here. The acting was also nothing extraordinary, but perhaps that blame falls less on the actors themselves and more on the source material. While we know Lawrence and company are certainly capable of packing a punch, the director’s decision to rush several important scenes left something to be desired.

I expected a lot more from the ending of such a powerful series, but Mockingjay Part 2 was underwhelming. While adapting a popular novel series into a film franchise is no easy task and there is certainly no way to please everyone, the movies have always managed to stand on their own until now. Many of the directing decisions were a let down, and huge storylines were rushed in favor of silent shots of Katniss staring off into space. It’s a shame that in the franchise’s final installment, the Girl on Fire has never felt more dull.

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