Saturday 3 December 2016

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 review - Out with a whimper, not a bang

'The Hunger Games' saga ends on a flat note, says our reviewer

Paul Whitington

Published 20/11/2015 | 07:00

Game over: Natalie Dormer as Cressida and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the final instalment of The Hunger Games.
Game over: Natalie Dormer as Cressida and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the final instalment of The Hunger Games.

When the first Hunger Games film began shooting back in early 2011, Jennifer Lawrence was an unknown 20-year-old with a few indie films to her credit. Four years on she's one of the biggest female stars in Hollywood, an Oscar-winner and the current muse of David O. Russell. So respected and revered is she now, in fact, that her connection with this plodding and interminable sci-fi franchise has almost become an impediment. She's outgrown it, but might not have if the franchise's greedy producers hadn't decided to string a series based on a trilogy of novels into four films.

2*

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Suzanne Collins' final book, Mockingjay, is 390 pages long, but Lionsgate and associates have translated that modest tome into four-and-a-quarter hours of film. In that equation something was bound to suffer - it turns out to be the viewer.

The Hunger Games started out well enough, and the first film was a vast improvement on such tiresome fantasy franchises as Twilight. The stories are set in a futuristic, post-Apocalyptic America which is now ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictator and divided into 12 districts. While a ruling elite lives it up in the glittering Capitol, the poor old drones are worked like dogs in the districts and kept in line by the so-called 'peace-keepers', armed guards who look like imperial storm-troopers from Star Wars and behave accordingly.

As punishment for an earlier failed rebellion, each district must send two 'tributes', or forced volunteers to take part in the annual Hunger Games, a kind of televised bloodsport in which the contestants fight until only one of them remains alive. Ms Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old from District 12 who becomes an unlikely hero in the contest, but begins to worry the authorities and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in particular when she also proves a rallying point for a new insurrection.

In Mockingjay - Part 1, Katniss was taken under the wing of rebel leader President Alma Coin, and encouraged her to take part in staged broadcasts and speeches and become a media symbol of the uprising. But Katniss didn't quite trust the smooth-talking Coin, and in this final instalment grows weary of the play-acting and decides to fight for real. Which is good news if you ask me, because Mockingjay - Part 1 was woefully short on action, but this film turns out to have other ailments.

Katniss is still trying to decide between her two winsome suitors, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a choice simplified perhaps by the fact that Peeta keeps trying to strangle her. But he's only doing so because he was brainwashed by the odious President Snow, and now Katniss wants payback. Ignoring Alma Coin's orders, she sets out for the now surrounded Capitol to find Snow and assassinate him. But doing so will not be easy.

The tone of this last Hunger Games movie is grim to the point of funereal, and an underground sequence involving an attack by pigment-less ghouls left me wondering how it had managed to hang on to its precious 12A rating. As with the last film, the drama of the Games themselves and the odious commentaries of Stanley Tucci's oily compère Caesar are sadly missed - he appears, but all too briefly. Mockingjay - Part 2's best action scenes involve a series of elaborate booby traps laid around the Capitol, and that underground sequence is pretty riveting too, in fairness.

But the film's pacing is perplexing, and bungled: it jumps along in starts and stutters, making the action hard to follow at times, and as the story lurches towards its conclusion, secondary characters one has grown rather fond of are dispensed with too perfunctorily. A late twist is clumsily telegraphed, and in truth it's only Jennifer Lawrence's charisma and composure that hold this messy and over-long denouement together.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (12A, 137mins) 2 stars

Irish Independent

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