For the most part, I’m ambivalent over YA book adaptations. They’re becoming pretty tough to avoid since the immense success of franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight, with the Maze Runner and Divergent (Insurgent? Allegiant?!) films, among others, over-saturating the teenage market. The Hunger Games, however, has ascended from the crucible of underwhelming passivity as victor. Catching Fire, the second instalment, is particularly excellent; smart, mature and thrilling it stands as the benchmark for the sub-genre. So having sat through the fairly laborious set-up that was Mockingjay Pt. 1, and being a fan of the first two films, I had high hopes for the final instalment. Unfortunately, a stilted flow and confused character development do their best to spoil some brilliant set pieces and series-best acting. Mockingjay Pt. 2 suffers most when it forgets itself and falls foul to contrived borrowings from its inferior peers.
"having sat through the fairly laborious set-up that was Mockingjay Pt. 1, and being a fan of the first two films, I had high hopes for the final instalment"
We re-join the story right after the events of Pt. 1, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) keen to get back on the frontlines of the battle to spur on the soldiers as they make their final march on the Capitol. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is a constant thorn in her side as she and the others attempt to remedy his psychological trauma at the hands of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). In a clever twist on the Hunger Games formula, Snow and his ‘game-makers’ have set traps called ‘pods’ all over the city to slow the advances of the rebels. These pods contain various deadly surprises, echoing the eponymous trials, and Katniss & co. must overcome them to finally dethrone Snow. This all, in theory, sounds like it will be perfect formula for a rousing finish to a worthy franchise; but it’s so dark and jittery that we never get a chance to settle in.
There is a distinct feeling you get after leaving this film: that the makers got complacent with the material, thinking that it was the easiest part of the story to tell, and didn’t give enough time in the edit suite. The biggest problem Mockingjay Pt. 2 has is the balancing of its characters. Peeta gets a generous amount of screen-time, and yet his arc from homicidal avenger to redemption is a little hazy. There is an upside, though, as the much-lamented (by me) Josh Hutcherson turns in a career best performance, raising his game to the level of ‘bearable’. On the other hand, supporting characters are side-lined and this comes back to haunt the film when they are cashed in for what’s intended to be an emotional pay off, but ends up leaving a bad taste. The most emotion you’re likely to feel is seeing the CGI-d face of the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Almost as problematic is the pitch black tone. The glaring lack of any humour superimposes this, and it doesn’t sit right, especially when the inevitable ‘happy’ ending is fed to us like a sugar cube to deer. It’s jarring and unfaithful to what the previous instalments had achieved.
"Mockingjay Pt. 2 suffers most when it forgets itself and falls foul to contrived borrowings from its inferior peers"
Saying all this, there are some spectacular action sequences, and it’s a suitably grand occasion. Jennifer Lawrence is also as committed as ever, if not slightly melodramatic. Then again, there’s an authenticity to her brand of drama and you can’t fault director Francis Lawrence for wanting to harness that. Finales always carry closure as baggage, and that works in Mockingjay Pt. 2’s favour, even if the film itself doesn’t quite live up to expectations.