The “Hunger Games” quadrilogy comes to an unsatisfactory end with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.” It’s been a long time coming for fans of Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular “Hunger Games” books. We know how it ends, but we’re also curious to see how the filmmakers handle the finale. And though our hopes were raised by “Mockingjay Pt. 1,” they are expertly dashed by its cream-puff sequel: a mildly pleasurable but hollow farewell to Panem.
Director Francis Lawrence wastes no time diving back into the Mockingjay universe. The government of Panem is crumbling. The underground members of the Rebellion have finally gained enough bravado (and bombs) to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and restore Panem. Jennifer Lawrence is back as the once-spunky, now-jaded Katniss Everdeen, and she’s hankering for revenge. Katniss and a crack-team of rebel soldiers have been tasked with infiltrating the Capitol and killing Snow.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a YA movie without a love-triangle. Throughout, Katniss ping-pongs back-and-forth between the “cute” Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a plastic Ken-Doll as attractive as a Playgirl centerfold but as charismatic as mud, and her true love Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the blond bombshell who’s been brainwashed by Snow’s henchmen.
“Mockingjay” — the most accomplished of the three books — held immense promise as a movie adaptation. It was the most politically-minded of all the books, dishing out references to the Iraq/Afghanistan War, PTSD-addled veterans and Vietnam like nobody’s business. It was the book where the human stakes were at their highest. Collins grounded her characters in a world that was both fantastical and all-too-real. And if there was any indication that “Mockingjay” would be fantastic in movie form, the proof was in “Pt. 1,” where most of Collins’ metaphors and depth of character were delicately replicated by director Lawrence. Thus, one enters “Mockingjay Pt. 2” with an expectation that it’ll deliver what “Pt. 1” tantalizingly promised: an earth-shaking collision of events that is both exciting and emotional.
Unfortunately, we don’t get any of this in “Pt. 2.” The classic “books-are-better-than-the-movies” syndrome is in effect here. The books gave you ample time to appreciate each individual character tic, savoring the minor moments of quietude over the huge action-packed twists. The movies, on the other hand, feel obligated to emphasize action at the expense of crucial character building. “Mockingjay, Pt. 2” is no exception. The filmmakers botch Collins’ metaphors by foreshortening them to disastrous effect. The PTSD and Vietnam references are half-baked. Katniss and Peeta’s human romance is forgotten amid the helter-skelter of airplane bombings and cheap chills copped from “Alien,” as one especially gratuitous CGI nightmare in a sewer shows.
By now, every actor in “The Hunger Games” is dead-bored with the series. The usually great Donald Sutherland sludges through his performance as President Snow, who’s been reduced to a boogeyman from the “Star Wars” villain rejects pile. Hutcherson is barely present, Hemsworth is a turgid snooze, Philip Seymour Hoffman (may he rest in peace) phones it in and Jennifer Lawrence — the series’ center — passes through every scene she’s in like a ghost leaving no trace of her presence behind. Her blank stares no longer convince. But it isn’t Lawrence’s fault; it’s the movie’s.
The series has failed to keep up with Lawrence’s immense growth as an actress over these past years. A virtuoso Lawrence performance in, say, “Silver Linings Playbook” or “American Hustle,” combines sincerity, rage, romance and redemption in complex ways. With director David O. Russell, she has matured and shown her dynamic range. But under the tyrannical clutches of the “Hunger Games” banner, she is forced to forget everything she’s learned as an actress and play a commercial role devoid of emotional stakes. She comes off feeling flat-footed in the world of YA cliché. Can we blame her, though? She’s bored with the role, as she should be: It’s beneath her. It’s clear now that a single JLaw close-up is worth a thousand Rue whistles.
To add insult to injury, the filmmakers rob the book’s emotionally cathartic ending of its sweeping heft. Instead, what we’re stuck with is a cornball, “kitschy-coo-coo” conclusion so cheesy and infantile you won’t know whether to laugh or facepalm. The series builds itself up to an anti-climactic non-ending. It doesn’t satisfy the fans because so much of the story’s gravitas is truncated. The filmmakers have squandered everyone’s hopes about the potential greatness of this final chapter in the “Hunger Games” saga. With the dull “Mockingjay, Pt. 2,” a series that should have ended with a bang awkwardly peters out in a half-whisper.
Contact Carlos Valladares at cvall96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.