‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’ Review: Half of a Story, All of the Boredom
The bad news is it still has a lot of scenes of people sitting around waiting for things to happen.
If you were hoping Lionsgate’s decision to split the last Hunger Games novel into two films would result in an non-stop finale of action and suspense, prepare yourself for disappointment. Even though Mockingjay – Part 1 seemingly took care of all the table setting and throat clearing last November, Part 2 is still paced with all the urgency of a narcoleptic snail.
Once again, the burden of enlivening a fitful and tedious script falls on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence, whose Katniss Everdeen remains the symbolic figurehead of the rebellion against President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the despotic leader of the future world of Panem. Katniss was nearly killed at the end of the last film by her brainwashed love Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who’d been turned into a sleeper assassin by Snow’s forces. With Peeta’s brain still poisoned by bee venom (no, really), Katniss hungers for revenge, but the resistance’s leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore), wants to keep the Mockingjay squirreled away for future propaganda efforts. Instead, Katniss sneaks off to the front lines to lead a team of soldiers through the heavily boobytrapped streets of the Capitol on a personal mission to assassinate Snow.
Sounds great, right? Now imagine that plot spread across 140 plodding minutes, and interrupted constantly by long scenes of the characters taking naps and chit-chatting and not doing much of anything. Katniss’ team successfully evades one of the “pods” that Snow has covered Panem in to kill invaders, and then immediately decide to make camp for the night. They get a little farther ahead, get trapped by another pod, then take another break. Then they go down into the sewers, walk a ways, and hunker down for a third time. (Don’t get me started on the all-important “holo” gadget that they spend minutes and minutes establishing as this critical MacGuffin to no ultimate purpose.) These soldiers, trapped in the most important battle of their lives, take more breaks than a procrastinating college student.
Lawrence does her best to make chicken salad out of chicken scratch, and the movie puts a refreshing focus on powerful female characters; Katniss, Coin, and numerous supporting players whom seem a lot more competent (and a lot more charismatic, frankly) than their male counterparts. There’s also one sequence in the Panem sewers that crackles with tension and horror. Otherwise, and with very few exceptions, Mockingjay – Part 2 is boring. Its production design is incredible, the dystopian chic costumes are gorgeous, director Francis Lawrence knows how to wrangle large-scale computer visuals, and the cast from Lawrence to Moore to Sutherland to Woody Harrelson to Elizabeth Banks to Jena Malone to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is first-rate. Mockingjay – Part 2 is really only deficient in one crucial area: editing.
There’s simply no reason for this movie to be this long and this slow. You could almost justify padding out Part 1 to make it the setup to Part 2’s big payoff, but this movie is nearly as patchy and rambling as the last one. It also keeps contradicting itself. One scene recoils from the horror of war and the next revels in it, and Katniss’ moral stand about murder lasts only until it becomes inconvenient to the story (when she starts slaughtering soldiers with explosive arrows).
The most frustrating part of it all is that it didn’t have to be this way. At the core of Mockingjay is a fascinating and complex protagonist whose identity is wrapped up in tons of interesting ideas — particularly about the ruinous influence of war and the dangers of vilifying your enemies — ideas that could have made a positive impact on a generation of teenagers who live in a world that seems to want to destroy itself. Unfortunately, in a misguided attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of The Hunger Games, the producers turned what could have been a streamlined, allegorical war film into a tortuous two-part slog. Entire sequences add nothing to the drama or to Katniss’ journey; it’s as if the studio tried to adapt its own desire to never let this franchise end into a story about dragging things out as long as is humanly possible. There was a good movie in this material. But not two.