Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 | 137 min | PG-13
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Natalie Dormer, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
By now, audiences worldwide have discovered that THE HUNGER GAMES franchise is the industry gold standard. With each film in the series, the filmmakers continue to raise the bar – worlds above fellow dystopian teen cinematic adaptations THE MAZE RUNNER and THE DIVERGENT SERIES. Now we stand on the precipice of the series grand finale with the release of director Francis Lawrence‘s THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2, and it’s a spectacular sprint to the finish line. Filled with genuine thrills, gripping tension and rallying hero moments galore, the trilogy comes to a close in epic fashion, befitting its bad-ass heroine.
This chapter does a great job re-hashing the events without unnecessary exposition. When we last left Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), she had just been brutally attacked by a brainwashed and “Tracker Jacker” venom-influenced Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Though she’s insistent she won’t be anyone’s propaganda puppet, she still is – for District 13’s rebel forces, led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and co-sponsored by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). In the midst of full-scale warfare, Katniss – along with recuperating/ unhinged Peeta, dutiful Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), fearless Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and the camera crew from PART 1 – plan to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who, of course, is still hell-bent on obliterating Katniss. However, he’s terminally ill, and his sickness might get the better of him before she does.
While some of us (cough, cough, me) didn’t care for PART 1, PART 2 gives us more to be excited about: Katniss finally (finally!) is allowed to get her hands dirty again – something she did in the original (and best) film. Character progression is key for a few characters. Peeta’s role finally (finally!) gets fleshed out to great effect. Finnick finally (finally!) has a phenomenal hero moment when the story veers into THE DESCENT’s unrelenting tension-filled territory in the Capital’s sewers. The “pods” booby trap set-pieces delight, entertain and get viewers re-engaged seeing the games taken to the streets. Themes in the overarching narrative are tied up succinctly and intelligently. Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), with what very little screen time she’s given, still remains acerbically sarcastic and awesome. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), whose name I’m still waiting to see turned into a drag band called “Effie’s Trinkets,” gets a glittering camp-tinged farewell, solidifying her evergreen status as an icon. I dare you not to shout “YAS, QUEEN!”
Nevertheless, there a few problems – it’s just the positives carry much more weight this go around. There’s a moment at the end of act two that’s maddening, as the story is driving the characters rather than the characters driving the story. As a writer, you always want the characters to be proactive and here, it becomes increasingly clear they are in service of the narrative. I know it’s this way in Collins’ book too, but screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong could have tweaked this manufactured twist ever-so-slightly. The same can be said of establishing tertiary characters. The first HUNGER GAMES did so to great effect, getting us emotionally involved in a short time with the supporting ensemble. However, as was the case in PART 1, a lackluster effort is made here. Imagine if you’d have cared about the lower ranking members of Katniss’ squad before they get picked off. Emotional resonance would have tripled.
The decision to split up the third book continues to work against it. Yes, it benefits the studio’s bottom line, but this film suffers from some of the same padding as PART 1. We don’t need to see a TV replay of the kill scene in its entirety that we just saw moments ago. Even though they are far fewer than in PART 1, lulls in energy remain present (like in Tigris’ dress shop). A tighter core encapsulated in one film could have made for a better roller-coaster ride. But here we are, and you won’t be able to and really can’t miss this must-see dramatic conclusion.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 opens on November 20.