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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay: Part 2

We can all breathe a sigh of relief: Mockingjay Part 2 solidifies the Hunger Games saga as the gold standard in YA novel adaptations.

As a fierce defender of Mockingjay Part 1 (I loved all the talky bits), it's kind of odd that I have to say that, for all that it gets very right, Mockingjay Part 2 makes a strong case for smooshing the two films into one three-hour long epic.

The Hunger Games' final installment is an excellent capper to the series that impresses both as a gripping piece of entertainment and as impressively ambitious social commentary that deals with class warfare, traditional warfare, revolutions, the corruption of power and the way that the media is used and manipulated in all of the above. It's brave, smart and audacious filmmaking that just happens to be a major, big-budget Hollywood film aimed, nominally, at teenage girls.

Unfortunately, the one thing that stops it from ever really coming close to toppling Catching Fire as the series' best entry is that the pacing of the film - especially during much of the assault on the capital - lurches all over the place with a stop-start structure that alternates between really nicely done action scenes and one or two too many discussions about what to with poor brainwashed Peta who gets stuck accompanying them on this most crucial mission. Had they streamlined these sections and used them to join a condensed version of Mockingjay Part 1 with the film's climactic hour, Mockingjay would have been a damn near perfect single film. But, alas, money doesn't talk, it swears, and we landed up with two "merely" very, very good movies instead.

There's really not much point going into the plot here because there is really no point in watching this film if you haven't seen the others - and if you've seen the others, you already know the basic gist of what's going to happen in this final installment so telling you any more than "shit goes down" would probably only spoil the film for you. More importantly, though, one of the reasons I love this series as much as I do is that it has always been about ideas and character as much as it has been about plot - but, again, actually going into detail on even this level will reveal far too much of what happens in terms of the film's plot. One of the cardinal rules of reviewing is to never talk about the final act of the story you're covering and, since the entire film is a final act, I really only can speak in the most general of generalities. Sorry about that.

What I can say, though, is that for all of its ambitious ideas, its crazy plot twists and its often colourful characters, the reason that this whole series has worked as beautifully as it has is because of Jennifer Lawrence. I say this with all due respect to the rest of the stellar cast (once again, it was just heartbreaking seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final ever role) and to the talented writers, directors and crews of all four films, but Ms. Lawrence is unquestionably the heart and soul of these films.

She's done some amazing work elsewhere and she even gave one of her best ever performances pre-Hunger-Games in the chillingly excellent Winter's Bone, but it's entirely just if this series is to go down as her calling-card role. Katniss Everdeen is a fairly subtle character and she could quite easily come across as unlikable, but Lawrence's inherent charm and serious acting chops keep us rooting for her throughout. For all that the Hunger Games has been about a dystopian world, the reason it engages us ultimately is because of its sharp focus on this great character - and, even if the film overall isn't the best of the series, it might actually be her best outing overall.

All that said, though, is it just me or would the whole series have not benefited from a bit more humour - even of the pitch-black variety? There were some elements of this in the first couple of films, but the Mockingjay two-parter could definitely have leavened some of its dourness with just the smallest smidgen of comedy, especially as so many people involved in it are such naturally funny people.

Still, why damn it for what it isn't when it's (largely) so very good at what it is? Honestly, after the Hunger Games series showed just how good this genre can be, it's hard to look at subpar nonsense like the Divergent series or even the largely OK Maze Runner in the same way again.

Oh, I very nearly forgot: This is, I believe, the first Hunger Games film in 3D and I cannot recommend enough that you try and find a 2D print instead. The 3D doesn't just fail to add anything at all to the movie, it also does its dark tone no favours whatsoever.

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