Friday, March 25, 2016

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2": The Culmination Pays Off

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I recently reread my review of last year’s Mockingjay Part 1, and I almost feel like I did a disservice to the film by reviewing it at all.  Quite frankly, there just wasn’t enough of a movie to even effectively critique, since it was nothing more than a first act stretched to the breaking point of cinematic tolerance just to give Lionsgate one more year to figure out how to make money again once this franchise was milked dry.  So I wrote a retrospective piece about how the films have gradually gotten better from an abysmal start, but I avoided actual analysis by simply stating that the franchise had finally grabbed my interest by finally bringing its subtext to the foreground.  So the real questions now are (a) whether Part 2 justifies the division of this film into two parts, and (b) whether the potential of the franchise has finally been reached.

The answer to the first is most assuredly a negative.  I won’t even bother to try at a synopsis, as Part 2 makes no effort to pretend it’s a standalone affair, jumping in directly where the first half left off without so much as a refresher, which is a bit jarring for the casual viewer.  As payoff for the extra-long set-up of Part 1, this installment does, in fact, pay off and is considerably better paced, if only because it has both a second and third act to expand to two hours rather than only the first.  This means the bulk of the runtime is spent in the best action sequences of the franchise, which isn’t high praise but is still evidence of marked improvement.

What time the film does devote to story is actually rather somber and surprisingly grim.  It’s a terribly gutsy move to keep this PG-13 finale to a popular franchise so bleak, since it risks alienating an entire subsection of the audience acclimated to happy endings that expect just that.  Even the film’s final moments can only be described as bittersweet at best, and are downright depressing when you stop to think about it.  The political message of the film is shockingly prescient, and it’s easy to see why so many have gravitated toward this franchise just based on this ending alone.  It’s a risk that pays off, both from the standpoint of Suzanne Collins’s original text and to adapting it for the screen.

So, yes, this is the film that acts as the pinnacle of a franchise that is immensely overrated, but is at the very least respectable for its ambitions and moral purpose.  It would have been better to cut together Mockingjay into one film for the sake of artistic cohesion, since this final chapter really does not need to be over four hours long to be adequately told, but fans of the series should be able to proudly proclaim that their darling finished strong.  I still don’t think that the finale justifies an investment of three previous films in order to bring newcomers into the fold, and certain elements of the franchise still bug me for their dalliance with cliché and over-used dystopian fiction tropes, but there are a lot worse things to be a fan of, and I’m willing to admit that I had some fun at the end.  Now we can only hope that Lionsgate doesn’t follow through on those prequels they’re trying to cobble together.

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