The Hunger Games was an exciting take on a popular novel, albeit with terribly handled action cinematography and some shoddy writing. Catching Fire invited in director Francis Lawrence to improve on every front: the action and story were far more compelling, it was perfectly paced, and it ended up being a solid action film overall.
However, Mockingjay strove mostly for financial gain when it decided to follow in the vein of other YA adaptions and split its final book into two movies. This, as usual, was not a good idea: Mockingjay, Part 1 was an uneven slog through inconsistently written speeches and solely consisted of plot exposition.
Now the final film in the franchise is here. How does Mockingjay, Part 2 fare? Does it finish off the franchise on a high note? Is Jennifer Lawrence tired of playing Katniss now that she's moved on to more prestigious work?
The respective answers are almost well, sort of, and thank god she isn't- this movie needs her talent. Mockingjay, Part 2 is thematically strong but poorly executed, like a thoughtfully crafted arrow almost completely missing its intended target.
It's still the second best movie in the franchise, falling short of Catching Fire's powerful spectacle but reaching higher than the ill-famed first and third installments. The final movie- and assumedly its source material, courtesy of Suzanne Collins- has a lot of important points to make.
You'd be forgiven if you don't remember the events leading up to this movie- Catching Fire's narrative was way more clear in my mind than anything that happened in Mockingjay, Part 1. Basically, the conflict between the despotic Capitol and the oppressed Districts is coming to a head. Katniss' friends, fellow former tributes, and family members are all caught up in the fully-fledged war. The stakes are high, President Snow is crueler than ever, and it seems even the leader of the rebels has a hidden agenda. CUE THE WAR!
Or, not. Apparently the screenwriters didn't get all of their long-winded speeches out of their system in Mockingjay's first part. The movie crawls off to a slow start before it really takes off into the action, unfortunately not initially earning much care for the events that follow.
Thankfully, when it picks up, it conveys ideas that are societally necessary. It seems like much of this can be credited to the themes that already existed in the novel, and to Jennifer Lawrence's gut-wrenchingly emotional performance.
Mockingjay, Part 2's grasp of the consequences of war is intelligent and insightful. Both sides of the battle are worn out and devastated, no characters feel invincible, and an optimistic conclusion for everybody is clearly impossible from the start. The movie doesn't just get the bleak nature of war right- it masters tackling the theme of protecting human life vs. "the cold calculus of war", as an old friend of mine once put it.
Multiple scenes throughout the movie hammer this theme home, and it is Mockingjay, Part 2's biggest strength by a long shot. While some members of both the rebels and the Capitol stop at nothing to destroy their opposition, other fighters aim to save lives no matter the impracticality of their means. The best scenes portray the rewards and costs of each philosophy: from Katniss choosing to trust a train of refugees from the Capitol to strategic bombings that may result in innocent casualties on both sides, the movie is most gripping when tackling the dichotomy between victory in war and the value of human life.
Jennifer Lawrence, now a veritable force in Hollywood, embodies the personal wounds wrought from wrestling with this dichotomy. At times exhausted and defeated, at times hopeful and fiercely driven, Lawrence's last turn as Katniss is a no holds barred performance that has become this franchise's heart and soul.
Regrettably, she does get wrapped up in the franchise's weakest aspect again: the romantic subplots. For every smart understanding of war Mockingjay, Part 2 utilizes, there are two terribly written scenes between either Katniss and Gale or Katniss and Peeta. No romances in this movie are written believably. There is no discernable chemistry. As these subplots creep their way to the forefront, the forward momentum of battle is lost and the franchise ends on a whimper- a whimper that should not and cannot be taken seriously.
But where Mockingjay, Part 2 fails its characters, it succeeds in building up the themes of the world they inhabit. At the end of this cultural phenomenon of a franchise, you'll walk away laughing at the movie's overt flaws but respecting its dedication to displaying the desolation of war.
(I am still furious about one thing: this movie has one of the last performances of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a massively talented actor who was undoubtedly among the best of our time. Nowhere does it acknowledge him or pay tribute to him. Come on, The Hunger Games.)