After three movies and over $2 billion in box office, the Hunger Games series comes to a drawn-out end in the dour Mockingjay Part 2. But while it has vital points to raise for younger viewers about the repercussions of war and violent insurgences on humankind, Suzanne Collins’s sociopolitical themes get dragged down in the slog of a cash-grab two-parter that stretches out all the wrong parts into a tedious send-off for rebel archer Katniss Everdeen.
Did anyone besides Lionsgate’s execs and accountants really need to see Collins’ third and final (and most sharply criticized) novel split into two separate films? Mockingjay Part 2 suffers from the same overwhelming inertia that made Part 1 a chore. Even Jennifer Lawrence, who became an Oscar winner and the highest grossing action heroine of all time in the three years since she originated the role, seems so completely over it that the boredom in her face almost becomes more entertaining than the actual film. It’s a real downer seeing such a vibrant performer subjected to such unrelenting joylessness.
The story picks up on a low note on the heels of Mockingjay Part 1, with Katniss still recovering from her near-fatal assault at the hands of brainwashed former victor/friend/love interest Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). The Boy with the Bread is still wary of Katniss, who’s become increasingly emblematic of the resistance led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) with help from former Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Katniss’s old BFF Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
Katniss wants to hit the front lines with District 13’s armed ranks to take down the insidious President Snow (Donald Sutherland) once and for all. Instead, the Mockingjay finds herself used as a pawn in Coin’s media campaigns, relegated to starring in propaganda videos designed to convert enemy sympathizers. And so, with the help of deliciously bitchy fellow victor Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), a frustrated Katniss sneaks off to the front on her own secret one-woman assassination quest.
Thankfully, Mockingjay Part 2 picks up once it unleashes Katniss into the battle zone after a plodding first half filled with moody exposition and set-up. (If you haven’t read the books, prop your eyes open and try to pay attention early on as characters talk about wartime collateral damage and spout lines like “War is always personal” and “I guess there are no rules anymore to what a person can do to another person.”)
Sent into the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol with a squad of camera-toting soldiers including military careerist Gale, a still-traumatized and volatile Peeta, and fellow Games survivor Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Katniss and Co. must navigate a series of deadly “pods” hidden throughout the city en route to Snow’s mansion. These pods are unpredictable, ranging from torrential waves of oil to skin-melting energy beams to sewers teeming with rabid “mutts” bioengineered from the corpses of dead tributes and from the CG DNA of director Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend creatures.
It’s in these fatality-strewn action sequences that Mockingjay Part 2 occasionally lives up to its Hunger Games predecessors, as even nominally fleshed out supporting characters you barely know are dispatched in horrific, sometimes poetic ways. For all the posturing Mockingjay Part 2 does brooding over the costs of war, it’s the cartoonish deaths that still underscore the senselessness of such loss. Unfortunately, Lawrence can’t just go out on a high note following an explosive denouement most non-readers won’t see coming. Fan service apparently demanded they include a Harry Potter-esque postscript coda that death-marches on for an eternity and will leave ’em yawning in the aisles.
Mockingjay Part 2 might be a manic depressive (but mostly depressive) conclusion to what was once a fresh and engaging dystopian sci-fi property, but at least the blockbuster finale has admirable things going for it. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another major studio blockbuster populated with as many strong women characters as Mockingjay. Here, the future is female: Moore’s icy Alma Coin rules the resistance while Patina Miller plays District 8’s forceful leader, Commander Paylor. Two Game of Thrones alums join their fight—Gwendolyn Christie as Commander Lyme and Natalie Dormer as Star Squad director Cressida—and Michelle Forbes as Lieutenant Jackson.
In teen firebrand Katniss Everdeen we have a rare non-sexualized heroine leading her own revolution and her own lucrative franchise with smarts and strength, all the way down to the crucial decision that drives Mockingjay’s surprisingly political point home. Somehow, Gale and Peeta are still arguing over who gets to live happily ever after with the Mockingjay. But although she smooches both suitors in her final adventure—one literally in the middle of battle, with certain death nipping at their heels—the love triangle that floated so much of the fan frenzy for the first few films has given way to more important matters.
What first began as a dystopian horror saga about kids butchering kids for sport ends as a somber meditation on the toll that war takes on its victims, and on the moral codes of even the just and righteous. Those are heady themes for any blockbuster to tackle, and kudos for those willing to try. If only there was a little more fire burning in this Mockingjay.