If you’ve made it this far into the Hunger Games series, you’re going to see the concluding installment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, regardless of what a review says. But you don’t have to love it. Hollywood is smart, for their own gain, to keep splitting movie franchise finales like this. Everyone thought The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 felt like only half of a movie, but the makers don’t care because they know the fans will return in spite of their complaining. People need to see how things end. That’s why for decades television show finales have had higher ratings than any other episodes in their series’ history.
It isn’t exactly the same for movies, though. A lot of people who’ve been following the franchise are fine waiting until Mockingjay – Part 2 can be streamed in their homes. This finale isn’t quite the moviegoing event of the year. And frankly it’s not an essential theatrical experience. But it is a well-acted action drama that follows through exactly as you expect it to, from the basic course of the political revolution plot to which characters die when to whose bed Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) chooses to climb into at the end. It will satisfy. And then it will keep stuffing you with more.
The movie is actually quite an appropriate release for the Thanksgiving holiday, but that’s another reason not to see it in the theater, at least not on that day. You’ll feel doubly glutted. Mockingjay – Part 2 is at minimum a three course meal, maybe four. Adapted from the majority of the third book in Suzanne Collins’s series, it begins where Part 1 left off, with Katniss in a neck brace after being strangled by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her former Hunger Games partner and pretend lover. She continues to be used by the leader of the rebellion, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and former game architect Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for propaganda missions in the war against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.
There are a lot of ingredients in that first, main course, including an assassination attempt on a major character, a wedding ceremony, a good helping of Jenna Malone (slightly making up for her near absence in the last installment after stealing the show in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), some new characters (a military leader played by Michelle Forbes among them) joining the extended cast of soldiers and propaganda makers (including Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Sam Claflin and the other man in Katniss’s love triangle, Liam Hemsworth), who are also now joined by the unstable Peeta, just for show, and a return to the spirit of the franchise with an urban battleground populated by booby traps, monsters and other threats typically reserved for the Hunger Games.
Along the way, there are some genuinely heartfelt moments, some decent action set pieces and a lot of slow, quiet scenes where Lawrence gets to show that she puts as much work into a blockbuster role as she does for a performance in one of her more serious dramatic efforts. Then, just as we’re enjoying that course, it’s abruptly taken away from us and replaced by one that tastes completely different, not quite well-paired but still sort of on the same theme and still appetizing. That is to say, the third act has an extremely different tone and pace and objective, as if the previous course was strictly for our stomach and this is more brain food.
Finally, the movie ends, and then ends again and then again with a series of little desserts. Just as we saw with the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, here is another movie franchise that doesn’t want to say goodbye (and just as we saw with LOTR, this probably isn’t really goodbye anyway). And while it’s very neatly tied up and over-satisfying in terms of sustenance and narrative completion, it’s not entirely fulfilling emotionally. It’s too neat. And no more properly earned than a battle’s success is earned through the lies of propaganda, and maybe that’s on point as far as the right way for the franchise to go.
But propaganda has to be convincing, or at least persuasive and the Hunger Games series has never been good at making us believe of any of the romantic subplot running beneath – but ultimately deemed more important than – the main dystopian nightmare and political coup storyline. Lawrence hasn’t had great chemistry with either Hutcherson or Hemsworth, and the movies haven’t done a great job of showing us why her character would choose either one of theirs so much as just imply that she should. That the franchise finishes on a note answering the question of “Team Peeta or Team Gale?” then is disappointing. And it’s worse that it’s dragged out so long, allowing the series to wind down with a whimper.
To sum up the franchise after its four movies (or two movies plus two halves of a movie), The Hunger Games has a lot of great moments and, primarily from Lawrence, unnecessarily high quality acting, but it is very inconsistent, and with all its poignant and mostly unintentionally timely ideas about violent entertainment, separation of class, revolution, war, sacrifice and survival, the point of the whole story and any big message is muddled by the end. The series has hardly left a bad taste in our mouths, but we definitely don’t ever need another helping.
The Upside: Jenna Malone is back; one more (albeit brief) performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman; Jennifer Lawrence gives a performance that would be deemed Oscar-worthy if it were in another kind of movie; the public execution scene is pretty badass.
The Downside: Inconsistent tone and pace; the end drags on way too long; the love story and chemistry between romantically paired actors still doesn’t work; Gwendoline Christie is barely in the movie.
On the Side: Malone’s baldness in both parts of Mockingjay were done with computer effects so she wouldn’t have to actually shave her head.