Friday, December 11, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II Review

So, we were left with a cliffhanger at the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, and a year later we finally get to see the conclusion in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (2015). It's been an exciting series and this final installment lived up to expectations set by previous films. This one got really intense in some scenes, but felt lacking in some way in other scenes.
After young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) agrees to be the symbol of rebellion, the Mockingjay, she tries to return Peeta to his normal state, tries to get to the Capitol, and tries to deal with the battles coming her way. Katniss teams up with her closest friends, including, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and a now unstable Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) for their ultimate mission. Together, they leave District 13 to liberate the citizens of war-torn Panem and assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who's obsessed with destroying Katniss. What lies ahead are mortal traps, dangerous enemies, and moral choices that will ultimately determine the future of millions.
I never miss an opportunity to praise Jennifer Lawrence for her acting chops. She's simply fantastic here; she's the caliber of actress who improves the quality of the film she's in just by her presence, even if the movie is bad (take House at the End of the Street, for example). Katniss a fantastic female protagonist. She's a somewhat oblivious but totally hardcore heroine who sometimes responds in stereotypically feminine ways but, more often than not, breaks convention. She’s a breadwinner and protector, quick to anger, emotionally damaged, confused, and heroic. Katniss is brave and strong, skilled and smart, and, always, distinctly a teenage girl. She's the kind of character I'd want my daughters to model. Josh Hutcherson was fantastic as well. By this point in the story Peeta is significantly damaged and has been driven mad, and Hutcherson plays that incredibly well and convincingly.
There were two scenes in the book that I was worried would be left out or downplayed in the interest of time; seeking asylum from a person living in The Capital whose cosmetic surgeries and fashionable alterations made her look inhuman, and the "true or not true" game. The surviving members of Katniss's group seek refuge from a fashion clothing designer named Tigris in The Capital, her body alterations made her strongly resemble a tiger. In the book she was depicted as a tragic character to show that the beauty obsessed Capital was cruel to even their own citizens who nearly destroyed their bodies in the interest of keeping up with expectations to the point that they were no longer themselves and then discarded. It's a small, but poignant role that backed up the theme. Sadly this was downplayed to just being a weird character that randomly helped our heroes. That wasn't unexpected, but I'm glad she at least appeared briefly.
In the previous movie, Peeta's memories were tampered with and was conditioned to think that Katniss was the cause of all the war and fighting. He actively tries to kill Katniss because he believes that's the right thing to do. After some reconditioning in District 13, he understands that his memories and personality have been altered. In order to help Peeta sort out true memories from fabricated ones, he and Katniss play this "true or not true" game where Peeta describes something according to his skewed recollection and Katniss tells him if it's accurate or not, which is confirmed by others since Peeta doesn't trust Katniss. Not only is this a fantastic bit of character development, it's also something that could legitimately be used for helping people with anxiety. This was incorporated perfectly into the movie and I was highly pleased to see it.
The action here is intense! It still remains within its PG-13 bounds, but wow, parts of it was intense. There are insane, sadistic traps our heroes encounter and try to survive. Some are really cool and lend themselves to some amazing action scenes. There is one part, however, that really set me on edge. In the tunnels under The Capitol, the team encounters some terrifying monsters. I knew it was coming, but I did not expect what happened on the screen. All our heroes were on edge hearing something creepy in the dark, you just know something is going to jump out of the dark for a big scare, but the anticipation lingers for a long time. So long, in fact, that I was feeling genuinely distressed and fidgety. Something is going to scare me, I just know it. The scene ends up going just long enough that I started to doubt that event was going to happen yet, at which point I jumped out of both my seat and my skin. It was followed by an insane action scene that was also highly intense. It was really good! Thematically the movie gets very grim and dark, so much so I wonder if some younger viewers would be okay watching it.
In my review of Mockingjay Part I, I complained that there was a lot of down time which hurt the pacing of the movie. That was less of an issue in Part II, but it still lacked something. The first two movies were both exciting and dramatic, and that made them incredibly good. I think the problem with Mockingjay Part II is that it's mostly just exciting. The action was great, the effects were stunning, the tension was palpable, and the characters were good. I think where the problem lies is in parts of the aftermath and conclusion. I'll avoid spoilers here, but there's a vague sense of betrayal between some of the characters which deserved a bit more exploration or at least allusion. A death of a certain character could have been more impactful. The personalities and importance of some secondary characters were lost in the transition from book to movie (like Tigris). I think that if these few bits had been given more gravitas, it would have made Mockingjay Part II even better. The decision to turn a 390-page book into over four hours worth of screen time (and a bonus payday for the studio) has resulted in a patchy end to a franchise that started so promisingly. It's still good, but the Mockingjay story was weakened by stretching it out further than was necessary.
Tragically, Phillip Seymour Hoffman passed away during the filming of both Mockingjay movies in February 2014. He played an outstanding Plutarch Heavensbee, but this was his last appearance after a long career in film. All but two scenes involving Hoffman were completed by the time of his death. Regarding Hoffman's scenes, Lawrence commented that, "He had two substantial scenes left and the rest were appearances in other scenes. We had no intention of trying to fake a performance, so we rewrote those scenes to give to other actors… The rest, we just didn’t have him appear in those scenes. There’s no digital manipulation or CG fabrication of any kind." It was an honorable way to pay respects to the actor and his accomplishments.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II comes to an exacting and somewhat satisfying ending. Overall, the series of films is good, even if the two Mockingjay films suffered from being divided into two movies and lacked significant impact during the conclusion. It was still usually poignant when it needed to be and highly exciting. This last movie takes a remarkably dark tone even by comparison to its predecessors, some of the action and tension might get to be a bit too much for younger audiences, but it's positively riveting. If you can still catch this in theaters, I'd say go for it. The Hunger Games movies are worth owning copies of, and pulling out once in a while to relive the legacy of Katniss Everdeen again and again.

What other Young Adult novel trilogy would you like to see made into a movie in the future? Comment below and let me know!

No comments:

Post a Comment