The title is too long, and so is the movie. It seems odd to realize that it’s really been only four movies – it’s begun to seem that “The Hunger Games” franchise has been with us forever, but it is wrapping up with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.” In fact Lionsgate has actually cranked out these adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ young adult, science fiction novels about a dystopian future pretty quickly. “The Hunger Games” came out in 2012, and the first sequel, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was in theaters the next year. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” was released in 2014.
Author Suzanne Collins had unanticipated success with her series of novels that revolved around a future society in which the descendents of past rebels have to watch their children conscripted to take part in homicidal, televised arena elimination contests – a version of “Survivor” where Stanley Tucci’s Jeff Probst caricature waxes eloquent about ritual infanticide.
The success of Collins’ book series, and the movie franchise it’s spawned, has given rise to a whole science fiction sub-genre in which teenagers are put into mortal jeopardy by Machiavellian adults. Between “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and its sequels and “The Maze Runner” and its sequel(s) (a third entry is in pre-production), the field of dystopian future young adult franchises is becoming as crowded the Republican presidential field.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” is a flat-out war movie, with the good guy rebels finally closing in on the bad Capitol and its patrician citizens. Although victory now seems inevitable, the mood (and visual look of the movie) is getting darker. It turns out maybe the rebels aren’t that good, and things in the Capitol aren’t quite as simple as they seem. And taking the Capitol is complicated by the fact that President Snow has ordered the perimeter stocked with lethal boobytraps that will turn the assault into one last, huge Hunger Game.
Star Jennifer Lawrence, who’s played the post-modernist feminist heroine Katniss Everdeen in the entire series, turns in an effective and emotional performance in the franchise finale, which is disappointingly slow-paced and bloated. She’s supported by some very able supporting performances, particularly Donald Sutherland as the villainous President Snow, Julianne Moore as rebel President Alma Coin and Woody Harrelson, appearing now for the fourth time as former Hunger Games victor and advisor Haymitch Abernathy. Sutherland, in particular, seems to enjoy playing Snow, who delivers the most sinister dialogue with a smile and understated delivery.
Katniss’ former Hunger Games ally Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is still recovering from the tortuous brainwashing he endured at the Capitol, a device which packs somewhat less emotional wallop than it should, while her former macho hunting buddy Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is becoming increasingly hard-nosed and result-oriented as a rebel soldier. The triangle between Katniss and Peeta and Gale is thankfully, finally resolved. If you haven’t read the books you might be surprised, and if you have, you won’t. Many other supporting characters, including Jeffrey Wright’s Beetee, Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket and most sadly, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, seem to have dropped in only briefly to say goodbye.
Credit has to be given to director Francis Lawrence, not only for the competent craftsmanship of the well-executed action sequences, but deftly rescuing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unfinished performance. The post-production sleight-of-hand that accomplished this is barely noticeable (one scene at least, was reportedly recast). The action scenes are visceral and startling, periodically sufficiently panoramic to permit proper admiration of the large-scale rubble. The highlight, a “Walking Dead”-esque set piece in which our heroes are attacked in a sewer by pasty-skinned mutants with no eyes and big teeth, is everything fans could have asked for.
But it also has to be noted that this should have been a much tighter movie. It clocks in at two hours and seventeen minutes, and the action sequences are not long enough to take the blame. In fact, the series is based not on four books, but a mere trilogy. So how is it the third installment ended up being adapted as two movies? That’s actually a pretty good question. The novel “Mockingjay” isn’t even twenty pages longer than the first novel in the series, “The Hunger Games,” and is actually a page shorter than the second novel, “Catching Fire.” Dare we suggest the crass commercial motivation of franchise stretching? The end of the movie takes forever, with one slow fade to black after another, each followed by yet another scene that promises to end the movie but doesn’t.
Nonetheless, “The Hunger Games” franchise created a remarkable character in Katniss Everdeen, a character popular on the printed page and literally larger-than-life on the big screen. Too often, Hollywood movies sideline female characters, even to the point that a lionized director like Martin Scorsese is heaped with praise while showing a long-term and consistent inability to create a female character who isn’t either a two-dimensional whore or madonna. The virginal Katniss is neither, though men orbit her like planets around the sun. She’s complex, self-reliant, and hold the presses, singularly undependent on men. She isn’t always likeable either, but she’s also believable, vulnerable and tough. She was never meant to be a sex object – she’s a pure, unrefined warrior. And her impact is going to be felt for years. Already the ads for a new Lara Croft video game show the character with a bow and arrow. Where do you think that came from? “The Hunger Games” movie franchise may be coming to an end, but its influence is pervasive and is going to inform popular culture for a long time.