When “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins was published in 2008, it became a phenomenon. In six years the original along with the other two books in the trilogy, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” sold over 65 million copies. Its success paved the way for a plethora of other dystopian young adult trilogies such as “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner.” The movie adaptation was just as successful, with a domestic box office of over $400 million, good enough for third place in 2012 behind The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. The next year Catching Fire topped the box office with $425 million. Mockingjay Part 1’s earnings were lower ($337 million) but it still would have won the 2014 box office if not for Clint Eastwood’s sleeper megahit, American Sniper. Now we finally come to the end of the saga with Mockingjay Part 2. Nine hours of film spread out over four years is a long time to maintain excitement for an audience, and this movie feels like it’s out of breath and stumbling forward to the finish line.
Part of the problem lies in the books themselves. It’s hard to comprehend the capitol falling to the rebels within one year, especially with a president as ruthless as Snow. Historically, every revolution that succeeded happened because of weakness at the top. Rather than building to a climax as you have with The Lord of the Rings, here the final act tries to rush through wrapping up the story. Splitting the book into two movies underlines that weakness.
It’s beyond argument that Jennifer Lawrence is one of the brightest lights currently in the cinematic universe. Beginning with Winter’s Bone and continuing through Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the upcoming Joy, she’s still at the beginning of what one hopes will be a Streep-like career that will go on for decades of outstanding performances. But even great acting can’t fully overcome a poorly-written character. Katniss Everdeen was brash, prickly, strong-willed and somewhat insensitive in the first two movies, but it was understandable given her history and there was hope she’d grow. It seemed with the final shot of Catching Fire that she’d reached a moment of maturity, that she would become a leader of the rebellion rather than a symbol or figurehead. But with both Mockingjay movies her character regresses, and so her actions become tedious. Even Scarlet O’Hara finally grew up a bit, and it only took her four hours of film.
For three movies there’s been the classic triangle between Katniss and her two loves, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). It seemed to reached a high point in Part 1 when the brainwashed Peeta almost strangled Katniss, but that tension is allowed to wane in Part 2. Neither Gale nor Peeta is strong enough to match Katniss. When she finally makes her decision between the two it has an anti-climactic, ho-hum feel.
The series had sacrificed characters in ways that were emotionally devastating, beginning with Rue in the first film, and Cinna’s death at the beginning of the Quarter Quell was a gut-punch for the audience that raised the stakes for the games. In Part 2 there are more characters sacrificed, but now it feels calculated and perfunctory, as if screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong simply had a list of who had to die. One death in particular defies logistics and is there only to manipulate the audience. This was disheartening, since Craig wrote Ben Affleck’s excellent film, The Town, and Strong won an Emmy for HBO’s Game Change. More was expected of them.
Splitting the last book into two films was likely motivated by the studio’s bottom line more than having enough time to adapt the book. There are places in both parts where the story drags. While Part 1 was a big hit, it made about $100 million less than Catching Fire. Part 2 may not break the $300 million level that all the other movies achieved.
Successful trilogies such as Lord of the Rings or the original Star Wars leave the audience feeling satisfied and triumphant. Mockingjay Part 2 leaves you feeling relieved it’s over, like when you get out of the dentist’s chair. After all those hours and the investment made in the characters, the payoff is almost non-existent. Very sad.