Saturday, December 12, 2015

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2" Review: Better Than Part 1 But Still Too Little Too Late


The Hunger Games films have hit many peaks and valleys when it comes to their overall quality. This may sound repetitive for anyone who has read my previous reviews (which can be found at these links HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY PART 1), but it's difficult to not bring up the past failures and accomplishments when looking at this final chapter in the Hunger Games film franchise. That is because while watching these films you can see so much potential in the material that is almost never met to full satisfaction. The only thing one can hope for is that the series would end strong (something the similarly themed Twilight franchise was unable to do) and unfortunately that estimation is going to vary depending on who you talk to. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital            
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  2 hr 16 min
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Release Date: November 20, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Nothing
Likes: Catching Fire, JLaw
Neutral:  The first Hunger Games
Hates: Mockingjay Part 1, final books turned into multiple films
Is Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film that much?: Surprisingly yes but you can tell where his unfinished scenes were handed to someone else.


We pick up (unsurprisingly) directly after the events of Mockingjay Part 1 when the recently rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) attacked and nearly killed Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss recovers from her physical wounds in record time but her emotional wounds have been cut much deeper. Caught between her devotion to Peeta's well being and her loyalty to Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss is at an emotional crossroads that she is unable to navigate. To make matters more complicated for her the self anointed President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) has big plans for taking over the Capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) which requires putting Katniss in mortal danger. All the cards are on the table then as the final push to take down the tyrannical Snow commences with Katniss on the front lines.

This final chapter in the Hunger Games franchise flirts with greatness at every turn with plenty of action and some great character moments but the single act of splitting the final book into two films has all but killed the momentum built up from the second (and best) film in the series, Catching Fire. Many of these comments and observations are echoed loudly in my review for Mockingjay Part 1 and in that review I had stated that all the waiting around and lack of any significant story moments in that film would be redeemed if the second part delivered which it sadly doesn't. At least not enough to warrant the two film split that is more apparent than ever nothing more than a blatant money grab tactic.


It was difficult watching MJ Part 2 without thinking about how all of this could have been edited into a single much better film. As each scene would play out I would sit there and determine how relevant each scene was to the overall story compared to the scenes in MJ Part 1. After about half way through MJ Part 2 I had basically compiled a much superior cut of both films together in my head and found myself even more depressed that these films had been butchered so badly by people who clearly wanted to milk these films for all their worth with little concern about the fans who ultimately would be the ones that suffered. Let me break it down for you a little.

Much of what happened in Part 1 was fluff, filler to help extend it into feature length. I had stated that there was only about 30 minutes of actual content in that film which left about 90 minutes that could have been left on the cutting room floor. It is sort of ironic then that while watching Part 2 it was immediately noticeable that the first 30 minutes could have been taken out all together as it contained only a few scant moments of story that was only relevant to what happened in Part 1. If you do the math you will notice that if you took those 30 minutes from Part 2 and replaced it with the 30 minutes from Part 1 you would have one complete movie.


Now that may come off as sounding like I did not care for MJ Part 2 but the fact of the matter is that this is probably the second best film in the franchise behind Catching Fire. There are some great moments in MJ Part 2 that deliver on the spectacle that was missing from MJ Part 1 and deliver on the character development that was sorely missing from the first film. Once you get past those initial 30 minutes and the invasion on the Capitol begins it is hard to fault the film when it comes to being entertaining, something all the films have struggled with from the get go.

The key factor that makes this film much more successful than its predecessor is the return of the Hunger Games...sort of. It was clever how the games were brought back for the second film but the use of the games in MJ Part 2 is outright ingenious in most cases. Instead of seeing our heroes run off to battle a bunch of faceless Capitol soldiers we see them go head to head with the one most diabolical foe they have faced throughout all the films, the games themselves. Planting traps (called pods here) all throughout the cityscape like a minefield, it is nothing short of brilliant how each encounter with the traps plays out. The only thing that keeps this part of the film from reaching greatness is the lack of tension leading up to each trap since our characters have this magic device that conveniently shows them the location of each of every pod.


There is some tension added though with a few plot twists revealed during their push through the Capitol and the addition of bringing Peeta along adds an interesting wrinkle as he has more or less become a trap himself as you never know when he might flip out and try to kill someone. This brings us to the other strength of the film which are the character interactions. Aside from some fresh faces we get introduced to (only to have them killed minutes later it seemed), most everyone gets their just due with the most surprising character being Pollux (Elden Henson), the mute from MJ Part 1. Just like in that film he may not be able to speak but he somehow becomes one of the more compelling characters in the entire franchise.

Katniss, Peeta and Gale all get their moments as well but the couple of characters who get a surprising lack of screen time are the two most interesting characters from Catching Fire. Both Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Johanna (Jena Malone) get the short shrift with Finnick pushed to the background for most of the film after his wedding and Johanna showing up briefly in the beginning and then popping back up at the very end. It is sad since both of these two characters became instant fan favorites after the second film and to see them relegated to footnotes here feels like a waste.


Other franchise regulars like Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) get a couple scenes here or there that gives them some decent closure with Haymitch carrying the torch for Philip Seymour Hoffman's Plutarch as he ceremoniously delivers letters from the character to Katniss in place of the scenes he was most likely unable to complete due to his unfortunate passing last year. As for President Snow and President Coin, both of them are brought to the forefront a little more here and without giving anything away their fates are handled much better than many might expect and were even a bit surprising in some cases.

How does the film stand as the final chapter in a four film franchise though? While most of the characters get their time to shine and the aforementioned invasion of the Capitol was entertaining, it is difficult to not feel underwhelmed by it all at the end. This is mostly due to the final act which feels like a cheap shot to those of us waiting for a final showdown between Snow and Katniss. While the two arch enemies do get their much awaited face to face, it doesn't go down the way many may had envisioned it. There was all this build up to the taking of Snow's mansion and without giving anything away, we really don't get that moment...and that kind of sucks.


While what we get instead is arguably a more interesting and in some ways satisfying conclusion it still doesn't provide that release we had been waiting for. To put it in terms that most will understand, while watching the film my girlfriend had to use the restroom just before Katniss and the others were about to raid Snow's mansion. She was gone for ten minutes and when she got back the war was over, Snow was defeated and the world was free of its purgatory. Yes, that all happened in ten minutes. Want to know how that is possible while not feeling rushed? It's not possible, that's how.

Then the film continues for about another 20 or so minutes where it gets a bad case of the Return of the King multiple endings-itis. There are at least three distinct moments during those final 20 minutes where it felt like the film should have ended, complete with fade to blacks and everything, but it just kept going. There was at least one moment that felt like it would have been perfect to end on but they decided to pull a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2 on us by jumping ahead to show us some characters all grown up and starting families of their own which by that point just felt like overkill.


Like I had mentioned earlier, most of this is gonna be in the eye of the beholder. For some this final chapter may play out exactly as they had pictured it and for others they may dislike it even more than I did. But the one thing everyone will likely agree on is that MJ Part 1 and 2 should have been one movie, not two. By splitting them up like that it was impossible for either film to deliver the excitement, drama and action the ending of Catching Fire had promised us. Both films feel overly bloated for no apparent reason and that has resulted in a final chapter that takes too long to get going and too long to end. Hunger Games fans should definitely check this out in the theaters but if you have been holding off and watching them at home there is no reason to change for this one.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

I wish I could say that I loved this film, but I can't. It seemed like the studio behind them was too keen on milking their audience for every nickle than providing them the best product possible. With one great film out of the four and two OK ones followed by a turd I will likely never feel the need to ever watch any of these films again. Watching Catching Fire would simply piss me off because I now know the two films that follow it are inferior, watching the first film would frustrate me, watching MJ Part 1 would put me to sleep and watching MJ Part 2 would just make me want to boot up my editing software to turn it and the first part into one movie. I wish it would have ended better, it should have ended better.

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