Regardless of the questions of individual or overall quality, The Hunger Games is an important series. Written in the shadow of Twilight‘s monster success, and it’s subsequent impact on the Young Adult genre, it was the first major YA property, post-Twilight, to get its ducks in a row for a film franchise. First to the starting line often means first to the finish line, so now it’s the first one we can look back on and assess how the whole thing went.
Which makes reviewing the actual movie, in isolation, really freaking hard. Not only am I being forced to review a pop culture phenomena with impact on everything from other YA books to the superhero genre (do you think it’s a coincidence that WB announced Wonder Woman was going to be in Batman v. Superman right after Mockingjay and Frozen took the box office by storm) but also the final movie in a 4 movie series. That’s a lot of baggage for a single movie to carry.
The plot kicks off directly after the end of Part 1, which I won’t bother recapping. If you’re here, you probably been here the whole time. Needless to say, the Resistance is going well; Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been rescued from the capitol, but has been brainwashed into wanting to kill the Resistance’s public hero, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). After successfully taking District 2 at the beginning, the assault on the capitol begins, with President Snow fortifying the city with traps called Pods. Katniss, still angry over what happened to Peeta, decides to follow behind the main lines, with the intent of assassinating President Snow.
It took four movies, but it finally happened: The Hunger Games series has collapsed under its own weight. Mockingjay Part 2 is by no standard the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but it is probably one of the more disappointing, which is all the more surprising, given that I had next to no expectations for it. What makes it even more distressing is it taints the previous movies by association. The excuse that the franchise might be building to something no longer applies.
The problem, the one that keeps this movie from being good enough to be taken as good on its own merits (absent the expectations attached to it by the previous movies) is that it’s boring. All four of these movies have had pacing problems, but this one bring that issue to the forefront by being the second half of a book that did not have enough content to support two movies.
This means the movie has no first act and not really all that much of a second. The movie starts up right in the middle of its story, immediately barrels into what could be counted as its main plot, begins kicking off characters in precisely the most predictable order possible, slaps a half assed conclusion to the main plot, jumps past several good stopping points, and grinds to a halt on quite possibly the worst ending it could have chosen. The end.
What’s worse than that is that, despite being the climax of a four movie series, the movie doesn’t have all that much in the way of action or event. There’s a single action beat in the second half, and that’s it. It’s a well executed action beat, even if it feels like it’s pulling a little too heavily from The Descent (underground, dark claustrophobic tunnels…eyeless monsters, now it’s a little spooky), but it’s not exciting enough or long enough to support an entire movie, and the rest of the movie is a slow moving road trip that accomplishes nothing.
The frustrating thing is that it doesn’t need to be that way. There are things established in the movie, both thematic and action oriented that could be really interesting. The desperate street to street fighting the Capitol, the war in District 2, the questions of the line between freedom fighting Resistance and domestic terrorists, the difference in perception of the Resistance from the Capitol to the Districts, the list goes on. All of this is solid stuff, but we get to see none of it. We end up watching a really boring movie, with a bunch of really interesting movies going on around it.
Not that the movie we get to see doesn’t have potential, but it aims it at all the wrong stuff. Peeta’s slow crawl back to sanity could be extremely compelling, but we wind up seeing too much of it filtered through Katniss’ perspective and much worse through the f**king love triangle (which should have been dropped, or at least de-emphasized two movies ago). A character’s shift from heroic leader to villain happens entirely off screen, when it should be the focus. Hell, as much as I complain about the love triangle, it gets resolved really suddenly and anti-climatically.
There are bright spots. As I said, the movie’s singular action beat is well put together and actually really awesome, especially since I’ve officially given up any chance of understanding what the rules in play are. There is a huge horde of spinning blades underneath the floor of the tunnel? Cool, fine, whatever. The acting is still good across the board, even if it doesn’t have the heavy lifting required by previous films in the series. I guess it looks pretty good overall, solid CGI and such, but that’s such a minor thing at this stage. Also, Gwendoline Christie is in it. She is always a positive.
In the end, there is one lesson that can be taken away from The Hunger Games film series; That being important and being good can be mutually exclusive. The importance of the films is undeniable, at least in the short term, but the series ends on such a dull note that it can’t help but call into question the quality of the entire series, since all those moments where I assumed it was building to something have been proven conclusively wrong. I don’t know if people will be talking about these films years from now (judging an art work’s long term importance in the moment is an exercise in pointlessness) but if they are, they won’t be talking about them as masterpieces of cinema.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and between Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer and now Gwendoline Christie, this franchise keeps sidelining its best characters.
– good acting
– its one action beat is pretty good
– solid effects work I guess?
– incredibly disappointing ending
– overall very boring
– it only has one freaking action scene!