Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review
I know, I know. I am two weeks late on this one. Sometimes that's just how the cookie crumbles, and I hate being late on things but it happens. I was pretty busy with family stuff before and after Thanksgiving and that tight schedule kept me out of the theater on those weekends. But my girlfriend and I had some time to ourselves this weekend, so we finally saw the second half of "Mockingjay." The last movie in "The Hunger Games" saga. Much like the rest of the series, it was another high standard for a young-adult-novel-turned-film-franchise. It also had a satisfying, fitting ending to a four movie long fable.

Several of you have probably already seen this movie for yourselves, and if you have any interest in this franchise of films, you probably already know who Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is, and you know all about The Hunger Games and why The Capitol run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) for the Districts of Panem to compete in them every year. You know that Katniss is the girl on fire and she is the "Mockingjay," the figurehead of rebellion and freedom for all the people living in the Districts of Panem. The story in the second half of "Mockingjay" is the big finish. It seems like President Snow has taken away nearly everything Katniss cares about. He brainwashed Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson) into hating and fearing her. He torched her entire district, killing thousands. At the beginning of the movie, Katniss has united all thirteen districts, with the help of President Coin (Julianne Moore) the underground leader of the rebellion against The Capitol and Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) a Capitol insider that helped Katniss during a crucial part of the second movie. The big finish is this movie, where the rebels break into The Capitol and all out war between the two factions of people ensues.

Or does it? If you've seen the movie already, then you know "Mockingjay Part 2" is completely unlike any other conclusion to any young adult series. While "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" and even "Twilight" had these massive, action-packed, spectacles of finales, "Mockingjay Part 2" is surprisingly quieter and grounded. My girlfriend knows the books so she saw that coming. I didn't, but the movie still worked for me. The movie has been number one at the box office for the last two weeks, and I am aching to know what people thought of a finale that wasn't all about the final battle, but more about the characters and the story. I wonder if anybody was disappointing expecting an all-out brawl between the District rebels and the Capitol forces. But I thought it was a welcoming change. This is a series that has never followed the rules of the conventional young adult novel movies, and I think this series is stronger overall because of it.

That's not to say no action happens at all. In fact, when the spurts of action do break out, it is quite harrowing. There is a moment in the movie where several dozen children are killed in mass bombings, yes you read that correctly. I am floored by what director Francis Lawrence got away with in this PG-13 rated movie, because the rating was pushed drastically. But yet, this is a series that was about children killing each other in gladiator-style games for a neo-Fascist regime. Nothing about translating these books to the screen were meant to be easy, and I am glad Lawrence kept things grounded in realism and never turned back in order to tell a sugarplum type tale. Just as much as I wonder about what people thought of this mostly action-less blockbuster, I am equally curious what people thought of the ending. It isn't the typical epic showdown between good and evil that we are used to. What shocked me most is how the ending holds a mirror to us as human beings. I studied history in college and one of the questions my professors always asked is if we are expected to keep repeating several mistakes over the years. Will we ever change as a people? Will there always be Napoleons and Hitlers and Bin Ladens forever until the end of the world? These questions were raised in my mind as Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) read an important letter to Katniss during the climax of the movie. Katniss finds out that maybe there is no end to the madness after a war to free people, and that revelation tells us a lot about ourselves. Its pretty hefty stuff for a movie adapted from a young adult trilogy.

Some people may find her underwhelming, but Jennifer Lawrence has been strong all franchise long, and she delivers once again in this conclusion. Peeta goes through a rather heartbreaking arc in these last two films and I think the work Hutcherson has done really paid off in the end, thanks to his good character work. There are several moments when Sutherland, Harrelson, Hoffman and Moore shine. I think the same can be said of Liam Hemsworth, Natalie Dormer, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Sam Clafin, Jenna Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali and Elden Henson. Much like the "Harry Potter" movies, "The Hunger Games" had a very rich line up of supporting characters, and each of them was cast perfectly. Each of these fine actors had moments where they absolutely shined. In the last movie in a series, you really can't ask for anything else.

The only problem I had is that on the other side of this second half, I still feel cutting the movies in half was ultimately useless. The two movies don't really illuminate each other in any ways, they don't really build off of one another. It just felt weird to me to see one side of this story play off last year then waiting for this second half this year. It really felt like they could have easily edited things down and released "Mockingjay" in one sitting. I think padding things out for money and calling it "world building" is going to hurt studios then help them and "Mockingjay" is the perfect example of that. When Quentin Tarantino chose to cut "Kill Bill" in half, it felt the first movie was all questions and build-up and the second half was answers and release and both halves complemented each other well. I'd also say that cutting "Deathly Hallows" into two parts felt thematically sound, there was a big set up for the confrontation between Harry Potter and Voldemort and we began to understand the stakes in the first half, then in the second half it paid off nicely. With "Mockingjay" it just looks like bad editing, and I think splitting the adaptation in half was unnecessary.

Still, "The Hunger Games" is a blockbuster franchise unlike any other. Its a young adult adaptation unlike any other and that is why I think these movies will ultimately last. I loved that the Katniss-Gail-Peeta relationship was a silly love triangle. I loved that the movie played things realistic and authentic the whole way through. I love that story and character drove the tensions in this movie, but it still felt epic for what it was. This maybe a different kind of blockbuster, but that doesn't automatically mean bad. While the ending may not feel epic to some people, it was the realistic ending and playing things different I think is what will make this franchise pay-off as people begin to revisit it for many years to come.

FINAL GRADE: A 

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