"The Hunger Games" Peters Out With "Mockingjay - Part 2"

Five minutes into “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” a fog of explanatory dialogue hangs thick. Twenty minutes later it still hasn’t lifted. How did we get here? A series that just a few years ago seemed to bubble with personality and intrigue and depth is closed out here as coldly as possible, laying bare the failings of author Suzanne Collins’ writing and Francis Lawrence’s direction.

Parts one and two of “Mockingjay” – a single book greedily halved into two movies – have seen metaphor and characterization booted from the series in favor of hyper-mechanized storytelling, delivered joylessly, clinically, as if from an expectant physician just removed from stretching a rubber glove up his or her forearm. It follows that “Part 2” is in essence an expository suppository, doing its thing in the least desirable way imaginable.

Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is as stone-faced as ever here as Katniss Everdeen, leader of the rebellion, but the film has one thing going for it that its predecessor didn’t: rising action. The war for Panem between the rebellion and the Capitol finally comes to a head, relieving “Part 2” of the warm-up act syndrome that sank “Part 1.” For that reason alone, “Part 2” is the better movie.

Despite all of its long-winded descriptive chatter, the story is relatively uncomplicated. Katniss and her band of rebels – including longtime squeeze Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and the cognitively-compromised Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – stealthily make their way through the Capitol by way of tunnels and abandoned buildings. Although her team has been deployed largely as a symbolic effort to inspire other refugees via media coverage, Katniss has something else on her mind – assassination.

She’ll stop at nothing short of the death of the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland), which combined with the movie’s depiction of state-sponsored terrorism, has the makings of a a spectacularly dark premise for a teen movie. But Francis Lawrence and his screenwriters only look to their potentially incendiary material for banal action beats (including a setpiece straight out of James Cameron’s “Aliens”) and quick flashes of charisma from the cast.

Said flashes are exceptionally brief, with only a few moments of levity, all culminating in a disappointing end to the series’ notorious love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. It’s not a good sign when the screenplay stops to literally explain what a love triangle is. Even worse is the movie’s final scene, one that’s equal parts made-up (not in Collins’ book), unnecessary, and cheeseball.

All but thrown away in “Part 2” are franchise favorites Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), combining for less than ten minutes of screentime. And then there’s the matter of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman whose tragic passing preceded the completion of principal photography. His character’s absence in the third act is ably covered over, but the loss is felt all the same.

Because “Mockingjay – Part 2” is a built-in smash hit, it doesn’t have to be good. So that it isn’t doesn’t feel like a betrayal, and it’s a blow softened by its below average predecessor. This isn’t “Spider-Man 3” detonating a potentially all-time-great series or “The Matrix Revolutions” capping two film’s worth of catastrophe. It’s merely a disappointment, an “aw shucks” airball from a streaky shooter who’s been off his or her game for a while.

This would-be savior of young adult dystopian novels-turned-movies has all but wilted, yet for all the series’ faults, its biggest crime will live on in the form of its offspring: an overstock of even more inert young adult adaptations (“Divergent,” “The Maze Runner”) that we’re unlikely to shake anytime soon.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: November 20, 2015
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenwriter: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material)