The decision to unnecessarily split the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ final book weighs down “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2” right from the very beginning. The droll blandness of the prior film marches on unabated like the jackbooted “peacekeepers” deployed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). So too does the threadbare plotting, with this final installment being more of a straight-line than ever both in terms of emotional connections and action. And while the overall grim tone blankets the film like a pall, it still manages to wrap up Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) quest for vengeance in a satisfying way for a franchise that began with kids murdering kids.
Along the way, the shock of children being thrown into a bloody fight to the death gets lost in the shuffle, replaced by Katniss as the face of a rebellion. The film picks up where the last one left off with her struggling to cope with the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and his attempts to kill her. Meanwhile, her wannabe lover Gale (Liam Hemsworth) broods in the corner, acknowledging what everybody seems to know but Katniss; that she’ll never be his, especially if Peeta never recovers. The rebellion’s leaders, in particular the ambitious Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), want Katniss to stay far behind the frontlines of the war against the Capitol, using her instead to shoot propaganda pieces to rally support.
Obviously, following orders isn’t something Katniss is good at, and before long she’s sneaking into battle alongside her team. The last film was a tedious slog due to the complete lack of “games”, a result of dividing the storyline into two chapters. This film makes up the difference as the entire Capitol has been transformed into one giant “hunger games” spectacle with pop-up machine gun cannons, tidal waves of hot oil (or something), and savage “mutts” unleashed in the catacombs. That said; the action seems more perfunctory than thrilling, with the exception of the intense fight against the feral mutts. With the exception of Peeta, Gale, and the handsome and newly-married Finnick (Sam Claflin) most of the members of Katniss’ squad might as well be redshirts waiting to die.
The major source of conflict isn’t the weapons at Snow’s disposal; it’s the internal struggle brewing within Katniss and Peeta. However, in this film Katniss is kept more at a distance than ever, and perhaps more than any other time the inner monologue of the novels is sorely missed. Peeta’s fight to reclaim his sanity and accept Katniss back into his heart provides the best dramatic arc, while Gale is underserved the most. Not that we expect “The Hunger Games” to be a laugh riot, but the characters who helped brighten the mood are left on the sidelines. The toothy Snow isn’t nearly the joyously evil heel we love to hate. We only get one good scene of Stanley Tucci’s smiley reality show host Caesar Flickerman, and Elizabeth Banks’ colorful Effie Trinket does practically nothing. She would have been more than welcome to spruce up the ugly gray and dull blue color palette. Even in the Capitol, which is supposed to be this symbol of selfishness and economic excess, it looks like a place made of boring concrete and steel. Visually it’s been diminishing returns for director Francis Lawrence, as he hit a high with the excellent ‘Catching Fire’ and has been on auto-pilot ever since. Adding to the overall dour flavor is a scene within the Capitol that is eerily reminiscent of the recent terror attacks in Paris. Some of the conversations that take place wouldn’t be out of place in the current political discussion about the needs for enhanced security, even at the expense of the innocent and the loss of personal freedom. For what it’s worth, no other YA adaptation is approaching that subject matter.
Lawrence really came into her own thanks to “The Hunger Games”, and her Katniss continues to be the model of rigid heroism and self-sacrifice. That said, she seemed to have outgrown this franchise a couple of movies ago and yet has continued to do some of her best work right up until the very end. But the bittersweet end is indeed here (presumably, there may be more at some point), and while ‘Mockingjay’ doesn’t have the powerful finish one might have hoped for, fans will find that it hits enough of the target.