The second half of the final instalment – and therefore the very last part – of the Hunger Games franchise concludes the series on a dutifully safe note, but a lack of the unexpected, both narratively and technically, does prevent the saga of Katniss & Co. from going out with a bang.
In a nice touch that throws viewers right back into the bleak, belligerent wartime ambience where things were left off, the film opens cold, in the middle of a physical checkup for our croaking heroine. After the title card drops, however, it’s pretty much storytelling at its squarest and most sanitised. We follow the rebels as they try to elicit support from various Districts and move towards the Capitol to take down the evil regime. Of course there are setbacks aplenty and sacrifices are made along the way, but, compared to the madly original idea behind the series-starter that smartly plays to our bloodlust and media obsession, what happens here just doesn’t stoke the imagination or tingle the spine quite the same way. Meanwhile, the political intrigue that has become the main source of conflict since the last movie also loses some of its vehemence due to the simple fact of fatigue. Not helping matters is the practiced but unimaginative direction, which recounts the adventure well enough, yet at no point feels adventurous itself, leaving behind an altogether unmemorable impression of orderly busyness.
The cast does a fine job, even though the tiredness of déjà-vu also carries over to the performances so that, with the possible exception of some delicious scene-chewing by Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland as heads of the two forces at war, nothing really stands out. What can’t be blamed on the corporate greed that split the finale in two and caused the inevitable watering-down is how, after four very successful films, the visual effects remain distractingly off. Whether it’s monstrous waves of dark matter flooding apartment blocks or scenes of imperial assembly meant to overwhelm with their sheer grandeur, the proper sense of scale, speed and mass seldom comes across to create that perfect illusion.
All things considered, the Hunger Games movies most likely still rank among the better YA fantasy adaptations out there. At the very least they ask interesting, ambivalent, subversive questions beneath all the adolescent-friendly packaging. And although there’s a whisper of regressive gender politics in the short epilogue attached to this concluding chapter, Katniss Everdeen, as portrayed with strength and great conviction by Jennifer Lawrence, is as valid a role model as any for young people everywhere. We just wish the filmmakers would have trusted their audience enough to try something more daring, sophisticated in their approach – and hired better tech teams while they’re at it.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 | Directed by Francis Lawrence (USA 2015) with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland. Starts November 19