Review by Slewo Oshana
So like a lot of people in America, I first became aware of the Hunger Games franchise by way of the movie adaptation. And like most of America I fell in love with the world, the characters, and the things it reflected about our own current pop culture. I even enjoyed Catching Fire as well, and was looking forward to Mockingjay. Although, frankly I cannot say I was a fan of this third…sorry, third and ½ part of the series.
A large part of the appeal of the Hunger Games series has been the breadth of well-developed (or at least appealing) characters that have come to life over the series, in addition to the writing that utilized our obsession with reality television, and how it plays into our own ignorance of the problems of the world: both internal and external. I’m not here to rehash any of that though; the problem with this movie is that it severely lacks these qualities that made the previous movies relevant. That’s not to say there’s nothing good about the film, by far there are a lot of things that are or could be great elements.
At the beginning of the film Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles trying to channel the rebellious spirit and righteous anger that she came to embody to her supporters, for an anti-Capitol propaganda ad on behalf of District 13. It plays a lot of what made the first and second films so appealing to me with the focus on perception and controlling the public with a spectacle. Along with Woody Harrelson’s return for a third take on Haymitch, who even sobering up can’t resist with the quips, which adds some needed levity to a self-serious film. Which presents one of the big problems with the film, when the film travels even ever-so-slightly- off the beaten path of the plot, there’s some good moments when the film is just allowed to pick at a scab for a second and have some fun, it actually gives the actors great material to work with. Which is the biggest problem: the actors have very little to work with that’s off the beaten path.
This isn’t really their own fault of course; it’s charting a path given to it by the books. Which when you’re coming from the previous two films in the franchise makes it very hard to digest when you’re expecting a slightly different problem. However, the other problem is that this material isn’t very unique. While Mockingjay pokes fun at writer clichés, it also falls victim to them. Clichés by themselves are not a problem, obviously movies are filled with them, but Mockingjay falls victim to many detrimental ones. One of the biggest flaws being, that it constantly leans on past events in order to stir emotional resonance with the audience. Whether that is bringing up past Katniss emotional speeches, flashbacks from the previous movie, or references to events both people in a conversation would have went through.
None of this by itself is a bad thing, but it makes the story feel toothless when it introduces a litany of new characters who with the exception of probably President Coin (played by Julianne Moore), are just there to serve a plot purpose and nothing more. While again, I do understand this is due to it being an adaptation, that also allows it to make changes and with characters fighting for screen time already, the lack of dimensionality makes it all the worse.
That being said, I think Part 2 can reverse itself if it returns more to trying to the character development and the social commentary that made the first 2 films successful. As it is the third film has too many characters with varying levels of dimension, a fairly generic rebellion story, and a lack of an ending. Speaking of that ending, multi-part final films are a staple of American cinema at this point.
While its equal parts a way of expanding story, and of course to extend the moneymaking by letting the series have more air, it’s perpetually annoying. It doesn’t help that in this case the film barely has an ending so much as an intermission, and when ticket prices can go from 9-13 dollars at a cinema, that’s an insult to the moviegoers. Hopefully, Mockingjay Part 2 can deliver on the promise of the buildup this hype has built, and Part1 was simply an aberration.