“No one else can do this but her.”
After sitting through Mockingjay – Part 1, it’s incredibly hard to believe that quote. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the girl on fire, has become a burn barrel doused with bucket upon bucket of water in her own franchise. It’s not her movie, nor is it anyone else’s. This movie belongs to the studio trying to extend a series that should have only been a trilogy. It’s no more than a FDR fireside chat, trying to dispense information and provide comfort while giving us no visual experiences to latch onto. I’d guess 25 minutes of it actually matter, and that’s being generous. Mockingjay tries to be so much greater than it is, but in the end it’s just a Möbius strip, an embellished portrayal of complexity that when fully traversed ends in a one way ticket to boredom city.
The games are over and the rebellion has swung into full effect. A straight continuation from Catching Fire, Katniss finds herself in the underground bunker that is the long thought to be lost District 13. Instead they’ve been waiting, approximately 75 years, to find the perfect angle to exact their revenge on the Capitol. They’re led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), a prudent and preferential disciple of the rebel cause. Underseeing her is Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, great as ever in a final role) the man championing Katniss and placing his faith solely in her. She’s the answer to all of their problems, as long as she’s willing to be the pawn in their chess match with President Snow (Donald Sutherland). And that’s pretty much all that happens. For two hours.
All of the regulars are back including a now wheelchair bound Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), a stripped down and unglamorous Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and an unwillingly sobered up Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). Gale (Liam Hemsworth) has gone full G.I. Joe mode, hellbent on giving the Capitol a taste of its own medicine. And following Katniss around is Capitol turncoat Cressida (Natalie Dormer), a director who brings her crew along to film propagandist spots to endorse the rebellion. Katniss, such a strong character in the previous installments, has dissipated into an easily manipulated Rosie the Riveter .
Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is the Capitol’s weapon to District 13’s use of Katniss. As Snow says, “Moves…and countermoves.” We really only see him through the agitprops the Capitol sends over the airwaves of him being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Peeta’s emaciated, clearly tortured through Orwellian measures, suffering physically and mentally while pleading with the rebels to stop and think about their actions. Hutcherson is a brief highlight in an otherwise grueling and bleak film.
This is a well-made film from Francis Lawrence, maybe even the best of the three from a technical aspect despite some odd editing choices, and the performances never disappoint. Lawrence, Hoffman, Moore…they’re all heavyweights and go round for round sparring with one another. But I was most impressed by Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair. He’s lost the cocky swagger from the previous film and replaced it with a demoralized, fragile man. Claflin is an actor to watch out for…I see big things coming from him. On the other hand, Hemsworth plays Gale without any passion. Maybe it’s because of the staggering talent surrounding him, but I’m starting to think the guy just really isn’t that great of an actor.
For a movie about freedom, it’s unbearably suffocating and shackling. Like the tributes in the first two films, we’re held captive the entire time. What’s the fun in watching people hide in a bunker? Why minimize Katniss’ biggest strength, her dogged perseverance, and make her nothing more than a puppet? She’s treated like a prom queen who didn’t want to win in the first place. This is a YA attempt at a political thriller, and just likes most films of that genre, it’s all too tiresome. We spend so much time waiting and watching what each opponent slings at the other. Sure, it’s informative and sets up the civil unrest soon to follow, but it’s never engaging. Have you ever seen a politician’s attack ad on their adversary and thought, “I’m voting for them!”? That’s how this feels.
Director Francis Lawrence clearly knows what he’s doing and where the story needs to go. It’s not his fault that the third book is the weakest of the bunch, and I can imagine how difficult it had to have been to stretch out such thin material. He’s done the best with what he was given. And don’t get me wrong, I have faith that the final film will be better. The problem is, take away the games, and there’s actually not much about the story to care for. The franchise has abandoned its personality, exchanging romance, dark humor, and personal turmoil for monotony. I spent my drive home trying to think of a standout moment, one exceptional part of the movie. Nothing came to mind. Mockingjay is all setup and no reward. No, you have to wait exactly one year from now to receive your gift for enduring this.
“I’m still betting on you.”
Rating: 2 out of 5