Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Film Review: The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Pt 2


Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore.
Runtime: 136 minutes

Jennifer Lawrence leads a grim and emotionally-shattering finale to the Hunger Games series in Mockingjay Part 2.

Katniss (Lawrence) and Gale (Hemsworth) lead the assult
After four years and just as many films, The Hunger Games series has now officially drawn to close with the final instalment, Mockingjay Part 2, soaring into cinemas over the weekend. Whilst the first two films were a smash hit with audiences and critics alike, the reception to 2014's Mockingjay Part 1 was noticeably frosty - a common complaint with novels that have been split into two movies.

Does the second half of Suzanne Collins' sombre send-off translate better to the screen? Well, the answer is a slight shrug of the shoulder - yes, but also no.

Mockingjay Part 2 effectively begins mid-scene. There is no gentle lead-in, or opening credits. We're plunged right into the middle of a scene that, had I not seen the preceding film the night before, would've felt very confusing as I wracked my brain to remember where Part 1 had finished. The film makes very little effort to disguise the fact that this is only one half of a whole, almost like an extended television episode that follows on from last week. Except, it wasn't last week - for most audiences, it was last year and that lack of lead-in means that Mockingjay Part 2 has a lot of explaining to do in the first five to ten minutes whilst the audience get acclimatised.

That being said, the film doesn't waste time getting into the real meaty parts of the story, namely the rebels launching their final assault on the Capitol and President Snow's (Donald Sutherland) royal residence. This is what forms the bulk of the story; Katniss and her elite band of soldiers need to navigate the streets of the city all whilst evading the various death traps that Snow's men have rigged; from automatic machine gun outposts to flamethrower turrets and tidal waves of black goo. This game of cat and mouse is set to a brisk pace - it's got all those elements we enjoyed about the first two films as the characters are picked off one by one by increasingly elaborate traps.

Mockingjay, and the series as a whole, lives and dies with Jennifer Lawrence; if she doesn't deliver, everyone else might as well just pack up and go home. Thankfully, J-Law has been bringing it since Act 1, Scene 1 and Mockingjay Part 2 is no different; Lawrence really nails the balance between shell-shocked survivor and enraged revolutionary. The scenes that she shares with Donald Sutherland's devious dictator are particularly great, and she shares a great chemistry with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Coin (Julianne Moore).

Prim (Willow Shields) and Haymitch (Harrelson) back at base
Where the film struggles is extracting that same chemistry from Gale (Liam Hemsworth); they may spark off screen, but every scene they share in this edition grinds the momentum to a halt, and that's not a good thing when Gale plays a substantially bigger role this time around.

Harrelson is a delight as ever whilst the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performance is muted and not bereft of the occasional joke. Natalie Dormer kicks some serious butt as Cressida whilst Gwendoline Christie's role is barely worth mentioning - she pops in for no more than two lines and is just as swiftly discarded. Something tells me there was just a touch more that was left on the cutting room floor here...

Francis Lawrence's direction isn't anything to rant and rave about; the film is well shot for the most part, with one or two wayward action sequences feeling needlessly choppy and mismanaged. One scene is clear throwback to Aliens - our heroes are creeping through a dank sewer whilst being stalked by an unseen predator - and Lawrence does a fantastic job of building a quiet fog of tension around the scene. However, a lot of this is undone once the trap is sprung and Katniss and co. are caught by the vicious band of mutants; all that tension unravels as our heroes and their foe hack, slash and splash wildly, with Lawrence's direction equally as messy to match. It's a hard action scene to follow and the gut-wrenching fatally that follows is nowhere near as effective as a result.

The film is also desperately bleak from a visual standpoint. I get that this is war and 'war is hell', but my goodness, can't we include a colour other than black and very, very dark grey in the palette? Where the first two films were populated with luscious greens and blues, this final entry looks completely drained of colour.

Complaints aside, Mockingjay is still a really solid and satisfying conclusion to the series. It might not be all sunshine and rainbows, but this film does offer closure. It's also rich in social commentary and evocative imagery; one scene sees Katniss and Gale dress as refugees so they may sneak past Snow's palace guard and assassinate him - just after, the crowds are firebombed, leaving hundreds of innocent people dead. It's a thought-provoking sequence, especially given the current debate surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, and the impact it may have had on the recent ISIS attacks in Paris.

The Verdict: 7.5/10


Stronger than the first half yet lacking the breakneck pace and energy of the first two films, Mockingjay Part 2 brings The Hunger Games to a close with a grim and gruelling final chapter.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is in cinemas across Australia now.

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Rhys! I loved the books but splitting the last into two parts is just so unnecessary. Hoping to see this myself tomorrow night!
    - Allie

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    1. Sometimes splitting can help give the narrative room to breathe, and other times it can just slow it down to a crawl. Unfortunately I think Mockingjay was more of the latter, especially in the first half. I still enjoyed it in the end though! A great series all things considered. Thanks for commenting Allie!

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