Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Mockingjay Part 2" Brings an Uneasy End

I liked the first "Mockingjay" movie more than most, because it was a strong character piece featuring Katniss.  The action finally slowed down enough that we could really spend some time with her, as she grappled with the impact of her actions in the previous films.  The second "Mockingjay" film had to get back to business, however, which meant giving the audience a front seat to the rebellion of the twelve (thirteen?) Districts of Panem against the Capitol and the evil President Snow.  And I suppose it was inevitable that it was going to be a disappointment, considering how much the movie has going against it.  Minor spoilers ahead.

First, there's the source material, which makes some choices that are pretty far out of the normal bounds of a PG-13 blockbuster action film, and surely would have been adjusted if the film weren't trying to keep the rabid "Hunger Games" fanbase happy.  Director Francis Lawrence does a good job with what he's got, but you can tell it was a struggle to translate the iffy particulars of the story to the screen.  Things get very dark and serious, but this is still a genre film, and there's an inherent silliness in some of the usual genre conceits that clashed with everything else that was going on.  I found myself scoffing more than once at highly unlikely developments that happened during the second and third acts.  Really, pretty much everything involving Peeta seemed to require serious suspension of disbelief.  That sabotaged any investment I had in the nice little love triangle with Peeta, Katniss, and Gale.

I think the pacing did the film in more than anything else.  So many scenes could have been cut or truncated, and the big action set pieces got tedious quickly. There were far too many characters who were introduced just to be cannon fodder, and a depressing number of great actors popped in for only about half a scene apiece, one after another as though for final curtain calls.  Did we really need the new Tigris character, who shows up for all for three minutes to facilitate an escape?  It's also painfully apparent that Philip Seymour Hoffman's passing left a hole that couldn't be easily patched.  It's Katniss's character that suffered the worst, though.  Events were designed to unfold so quickly, she wouldn't have time to react to major losses.  This made her seem cold or mercurial at times, in addition to impulsive, reckless, manipulative, and self-serving thanks to the various twists and turns demanded by the plot.  Jennifer Lawrence was excellent in the part, as she consistently has been throughout the series, but I found Katniss very poorly constructed here compared to the other films.

There was plenty that I did like.  The production values are very high.  The supporting cast was excellent across the board.  In addition to the ever dependable Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore, I found I've really grown attached to Jena Malone's damaged Joanna, and Sam Claflin's charismatic Finnick.  And I haven't liked Malone or Claflin in much else.  Though I found the series' brand of dystopian revolution hard to swallow, I admire the guts it took to tackle this kind of material and to stay committed to its brutal vision.  It wasn't that long ago that "Battle Royale" was viewed with raised eyebrows by Americans, and the "Mockingjay" ending will still probably be too bleak for some to take.  While this was my least favorite of the four "Hunger Games" films, I don't think the franchise overstayed its welcome and it delivered exactly what it promised.  Nothing was held back or softened.  "Mockingjay Part 2" could have been a better version of what is was, but the series as a whole still stands as quite an accomplishment.

I'm a little sad to find that as we bid farewell to "The Hunger Games," there are no worthy successors in sight.  All the various "Twilight" wannabes sputtered out, and we've had a pretty embarrassing run of teen-centric dystopian films that failed to distinguish themselves.  The similar "Divergent" series already feels very long in the tooth, though it's only on its third of four films.  It also highlights how there's still a dearth of good media aimed at adolescent girls.  "The Hunger Games" has been far from perfect, but it's still the best franchise of its kind for this audience, and I'm going to miss Katniss and everything she stands for.

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