Directed by: Francis Lawrence.
Written by: Peter Craig and Danny Strong & Suzanne Collins based on the novel by Collins.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Julianne Moore (President Alma Coin), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Mahershala Ali (Boggs), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee), Paula Malcomson (Katniss's Mother), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Natalie Dormer (Cressida), Evan Ross (Messalla), Elden Henson (Pollux), Wes Chatham (Castor)
I’ve been a fan of The Hunger Games – both the books and the movies – from their entire runs. The first movie, by Gary Ross, is probably the best, as Ross found a way make the large scale action movie feel more natural, and grounded. When Francis Lawrence took over the series with Catching Fire, he brought along some Hollywood gloss along with it – but the series remained effective, if somewhat more impersonal. Even Part I of Mockingjay was good – even if it was needlessly drawn out to cash in with two movies. But now, here comes the finale, and it is easily the weakest of the films – and in fact isn’t very good at all. I’ve always thought the films, and lead actress Jennifer Lawrence, are most effective in the smaller moments. Whenever the movies under Lawrence’s direction, slide into action scenes or speeches, they ring false. And unfortunately, this movie is nothing but big sequences – a lot of actions and speech making, and little else. What really kills it though is how simultaneously drawn out and rushed the film feels (it’s hard to do both – this one does it). Action sequences go on and on and on – and yet the film doesn’t pause when someone, even important characters, die so it can rush headlong into another action sequence, another speech. Major characters are forgotten, or shoehorned in, and the characters who are left all play the same note throughout the film. Nothing connects in the final installment of what had been a pretty rock solid franchise.
The story picks up where Part I left off – the rebels have gotten Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) back, but he’s been poisoned and brainwashed by President Snow and the capital to try and kill Katniss. The rebellion is going good – but the rebels need to take down District 2, where the Capital’s stronghold of “Peacekeepers” and weapons are. President Coin (Julianne Moore) is determined to use Katniss as little more than propaganda – keeping her safe so she can remain a symbol. But Katniss is determined to kill Snow herself – and forces Coin’s hand. Soon, she is part of unit – that includes both other sides of the love triangle, Peeta, who still kind of wants to kill her, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who has become more militaristic, as they storm the Capital – well behind the front lines, to keep them safe, but hardly risk free – as Snow has had his game makers turn the outskirts of the capital into yet another Hunger Games like arena.
Subtlety has never been this series’ strong suit – this has been a series where the characters will pretty much tell you off the bat exactly what they are thinking, and exactly what they must do. It’s to Jennifer Lawrence’s credit that she has made as much of this character as she has – even if she has clearly outgrown the character that once made her a star. Part of the problem is that as the series has gone along, it’s become increasingly clear that Katniss is little more than a pawn being used by all sides. Collins’ books did a good job of making this point, but the movies don’t seem to want to do that – Katniss is the hero after all, and heroes are not pawns in Hollywood productions, so they continually have her deliver ham-fisted speeches that underline just how virtuous and heroic she is.
There are moments in the film that work of course. There is an underground fight sequence with some truly terrifying monsters that really is exciting, and Donald Sutherland’s evil Snow is always a treat, even if he has gotten less complex as the series has gone along, and stops just short of twirling his mustache in this film. And every time Jena Malone’s Johanna is onscreen – not often enough at any point in this series – it’s enough to make me wish the series had instead focused on her flawed, angry, cynical character rather than the virtuous Katniss – if for nothing but pure entertainment value.
But as the movie draws to a close – with one climax after another after another (surely on Return of the King had more) he film really does collapse under its own weight. If you’ve stuck with the series this long, you’re going to see the final film – that’s a given, and perhaps you’ll be in a more forgiving mood than I was towards. Still, what I would like to see is Francis Lawrence forced back into the editing suite and combining the last two films – all 260 minutes of them – and coming up with a single film, about half that length. Now that’s a movie I’d like to see.