“The Hunger Games” is coming to an end. The blockbuster franchise based on a trilogy of Young Adult novels has come out with its fourth and final film. “Mockingjay – Part 2” has already opened to over $100 million, as have all the films in the series. And as with all the films in the series, I don’t understand its widespread appeal.
In this final installment, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is on a mission to The Capitol of Panem to assassinate series antagonist President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She is told to stay behind by Resistance leader President Coin (Julianne Moore), but she’s just so passionate about killing Snow after he oversaw years of Hunger Games, killed hundreds, oppressed millions, and brainwashed her friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) into turning against her. She makes her way through the booby-trapped streets of The Capitol accompanied by a not-quite-reprogrammed Peeta, her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), fellow Hunger Games winner Finnick (Sam Claflin), and a bunch of others who we sense are going to get picked off along the way. Familiar faces are back, including Katniss’s healer sister Prim (Willow Shields), fighting mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), style mentor Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and even former Snow aide Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away nearly two years ago).
The biggest problem with the film is, in a word, pacing. The opening settles us in just fine, but once Katniss sets out, things start to get grating. There aren’t enough booby traps to justify the amount of time spent on the journey, and there are too many scenes of squad members bickering about what to do with Peeta. Then there’s a major development that’s over in a flash, followed by a long explanation. I know we’re supposed to be shocked by how quickly things can change and how fleeting life can be, but the film practically puts a “Scene Missing” card onscreen. There’s some genuine suspense as we gear up for the big finale, and we get it (the blocking in a crucial scene makes the “twist” completely predictable), and then we get a smaller finale, and then a smaller one. The film doesn’t know how to efficiently let us go, though the stopping point they choose is admittedly a nice one.
It’s disappointing that the film squanders the concept of booby traps designed by people who can create pretty much whatever they want with computers and what I guess are large-scale 3-D printers. Giant blowtorches and machine guns are effectively cool, but what’s with the laughable CGI oil? Or the clumsy zombie creatures? There’s a stretch where this movie is no better than a typical “Resident Evil” installment, complete with insufficient lighting and hard-to-follow action. I don’t care if this movie has Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, it’s an apt comparison.
And so, we say goodbye to “The Hunger Games.” I’m glad to be done with this franchise. Its action was rarely crisp, its non-Katniss characters were rarely compelling. “Mockingjay – Part 2” is as weak as any of them. A few shimmering moments (mostly emotional ones from Katniss) stand out among the plodding muck of the movie as a whole, just like all the others. If you’ve seen the rest of “The Hunger Games,” you might as well see this one to see how it all ends, but by no means should you get into the franchise at this point. As far as “Mockingjay – Part 2” going down as anyone’s favorite of the already-sloggy “Hunger Games” series, the odds are never in its favor.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. Its running time is 137 minutes.
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006.