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Since its first installment, I’ve been in mild awe of the movie adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ enormously popular teen-lit series, The Hunger Games.  We’ve all seen plenty of book-to-screen flicks that shame their makers, but it’s kind of great when the film actually improves on the source material.  So it went with 2012’s The Hunger Games, the first telling of a dystopian future where the world is culminated into one nation called Panem.  Panem is divided into neat and increasingly poor segments by a totalitarian government that keeps its citizenry in strict order by sacrificing its children to a grotesque battle-to-the-death gladiator contest, where only one winner can survive.  A denizen of the impoverished District 12, Katniss Everdeen, uses her wits and skills to be a wrench in the government’s plan to publicly murder her.  Her resulting victory and its deeper meaning of defying the status quo, reverberates across the districts and stirs the unrest against the Capitol that was growing long before Katniss was born.  To Panem’s President Snow, Katniss’ win equates to a lighting a match to a revolution he will stop at all costs.

We had last seen Katniss in the relative safety of the bowels of the mythical District 13; a place she and many other citizens believed either never existed or had been wiped off Panem’s map for insubordination.  A city of bunkers houses not only refugees - including Katniss’ mom and beloved sister, Prim - who’ve fled from the destruction and tyranny of the Capitol, but also soldiers ready to overthrow it.  It’s a tight ship run by Alma Coin, a steely woman, inside and out, who is referred to as the “President” of District 13.  Katniss’s presence has been used to foment more support for the rebellion with the aid of propaganda videos that interrupt Capitol broadcasts with their subversive and openly antagonistic messages.  Thanks to the golden brooch she wore back in the first Games, Katniss has become the Mockingjay, the very symbol of the revolution.  Altruism and hate for the government aside, Katniss agrees to be the rebellion’s poster girl in exchange for their finding and releasing her old partner and occasional flame, Peeta Mellark, as well as the others captured during a second Game meant specifically to destroy her.  While warned, Katniss was no ways prepared for the gaunt, hollow-eyed shell of Peeta they bring back.  His leaping off a gurney to nearly choke her to death for her troubles in trying to get him released was a surprise, too.

Mockingjay Part 2 picks up in the days following.  We begin with Katniss trying to reclaim the use of the vocal chords Peeta tried to crush.  The torture that broke Peeta and made him into this feral Katniss killer is yet one more reason for Katniss to take out President Snow.  Peeta simply cannot tell truth from Capitol programming and therefore cannot be trusted around Katniss.  The other (occasional) side of the Katniss love triangle, Gale, himself an earlier victim of Capitol persuasion methods, has become a ruthless military machine; showing no compunction about decimating the innocent along with the guilty in his determination to bring about the coup.  Naturally, it is decided that both young men will accompany Katniss and the rebel crew on their big operation to invade the heart of the Capitol and assassinate Snow.

A Katniss-hating psychotic and a gung-ho militarist, both of whom are in love with the same girl - the most wanted fugitive on the planet - who’s also on the mission with them… What could possibly go wrong?

That’s pretty much the whole show.  Unlike the previous three chapters, which displayed character development, humour and some emotional depth, Mockingjay Part 2 is a very noisy teen-lit war movie, much hollower and less engaging than its predecessors.  Going much harder than the previous films, the violence is fairly jaw-dropping for a PG-13 movie:  The big Games-like conundrum is the maze of incredibly lethal booby-traps laid every ten feet or so on the streets of the Capitol that the rebels must avoid, using purloined but outdated technology to discover where they are.  For every snare they sidestep, there’s three they walk right into, and the blasts of the humungous automatic submachine guns popping out of random walls shook the floor of the theatre.  One character is blown in half, but lives long enough to give Katniss encouragement to go on (Cos she’s Katniss and someone has to tell her how great she is, even if they must use their last breath to do so!).  Another character is boiled alive in oil while saving Katniss (from Peeta!) with his dripping corpse strung up above the heads of his compatriots. 

Quite intense and frightening are the Mutts; the Capitol’s freak mutant albino zombie killing machines who basically bite and tear apart anything they get their hands on.  When they are mentioned earlier in the film, I expected the doglike creatures we saw towards the end of The Hunger Games, but nope, these are upright, humanoid, extremely fast-moving thingies in full frenzy with very sharp teeth.  I’m no zombie fan, but these guys were scary.

The other puzzle for Katniss beyond how to stay alive long enough to kill Snow (and decide between the men in her faint romantic triangle,) is who can she trust?  She hadn’t been big on the “T” word after enduring the guile and cunning necessary to win the first Games, and the subsequent betrayal by her mentor, Haymitch, and undercover rebel gamesmaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, who forswore their promise to save Peeta instead of herself at the end of the second visit to the arena.  Katniss is fairly docile (for Katniss) in going along with President Coin’s commands after the leader held up her end and saved Peeta, but certain words and actions as the lady gets closer to her dream of taking over the Capitol puts Katniss is real doubt over what exactly she’s fighting for.

One of the things the Hunger Games franchise had going for it was being smarter than the average teen flick.  Their sharp, witty scripts, great cast, and brisk pacing centered around a teenage heroine smart and girly enough for the main female demographic to identify with, while making her tough enough amidst thrilling action sequences for guys to feel like they didn’t have to say they’d been dragged by their girlfriends into coming.  The filmmakers kept the heart of their main character at the center, whether it was in Katniss’ sacrifice to save her kid sister from the first Games, her keening over poor little doomed Rue, or feeling the weight of friends she’d made and lost horribly in the middle of the Quarter Quell.  We get a bit of Katniss feeling sorry for herself here, but it has begun to feel token and rote.  Yeah, Katniss, we know, they’re all dead because of you, sob, sob, sob.  Give it a minute, I’m sure someone will come along to tell you how you shouldn’t feel bad and how important you are to the revolution, etc., etc.

I sense part of the problem is the source.  The previous films had been masterpieces of making silk purses out of sows’ ears, because, quite frankly, the books don’t start off that great and only get worse with each successive volume.  They’re barely readable by the time we get to Mockingjay.  In the books, Katniss - like many other heroic characters - is what is now termed a Mary Sue; an avatar of the author’s wish-fulfillment.  A bulletproof paragon, free from direct blame, consequence or insult for their (always justifiable) transgressions; who exists only to be praised and idolised.  She’s bratty, stupid and unlikable from the start (Haymitch actually mentions her unlikability in the first film’s script), but she is completely insufferable in the last book.  I’ve always applauded the filmmakers and Jennifer Lawrence for elevating Katniss from the miserable wretch on the page, to someone at least relatable and sympathetic on screen. 

Another failure of the novel is how very much Collins presses the love triangle between the three D12 teens while there’s a freaking war going on.  The filmmakers thankfully reduce this aspect to a faint whisper, though the onscreen resolution is forced, cheesy and clumsy.  Having such a bare bones template, the movie folks filled it with a lot of noise.  It’s often entertaining, popcorn-chomping noise, but a very different sound than the far more competent, satisfying prequels.  Even the big, heartbreaking moment of the entire series barely makes an impact in all the Sturm und Drang.  As opposed to other tear-jerking attempts in this movie that seem heavy-handed and insistent, this hugely important sequence felt rushed, as if people were ready to go home and so they wrapped this momentous scene up as quickly as they could.

Thankfully, there are some notably good things in the production, notably the cast.  Effie Trinket is once again her glamourous, fabulous self!  After the pain of seeing our peacock plucked of her trademark finery as a refugee in the District 13 barracks, the success of the revolution has clearly afforded La Trinket {Elizabeth Banks} the chance to stock up on some feathers and hairspray, and all is right again with the world.  Sadly, while brightening up the screen, she isn’t given terribly much to do, and I missed her ditzy, oblivious commentary. 

Donald Sutherland chews and chomps almost rambunctiously through his last bow as President Snow, reeling off mad grins and dry humour as bitter as his poisons as the rebel threat comes closer.  I wished there had been more scenes between him and Jennifer Lawrence because they were the only time the clearly done-with-this-franchise Lawrence really seemed to pop into life (Even Buttercup the cat seemed tired of Lawrence’s histrionics).  Sutherland’s chilling (NPI), world weary, hushed tones made Snow the most compelling character in the whole movie. 

Way too late and too little in the film do we have the raving Games victor, Johanna {a delightfully snarling Jena Malone}, who bursts in to Katniss’ presence, shaven-haired after her torture at the Capitol and more rage-filled than ever.  Woody Harrelson proves his ownership of Haymitch Abernathy, the alcoholic mentor of the D12 kiddies, but as with Effie and even Johanna, any laughs are muted as the script focuses more on the war action and forced gravitas than the characters.  Even in the Battle Royale-grimness of the first films, the wit and gallows humour at unexpected moments gave the movies much of their charm.

Despite its faults of an oddly-paced, charmless, hollow script and obvious filmmaker ennui, this last installment is still enjoyable (fast-moving albino zombies!) and worth seeing on big screen for its action thrills.  Mockingjay Part 2 is neither the worst film I’ve seen this year, nor even close to the worst sequel.  It’s merely the weakest in what had been a surprisingly good series.  Pity it had to happen in the final chapter.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov. 20th, 2015


Click here for our review of 2012's The Hunger Games.

Click here for our review of 2013's review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.


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