Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Running Time: 137 minutes
Release Date: November 20th
… and with that, Katniss removes her neck brace to reveal that damage inflicted upon her by Peeta during his brainwashed attack, while Plutarch looks on worriedly as the voice of the rebellion may have been irreparably damaged in more ways than one. No idea what we’re talking about? Too bad, because Mockingjay Part Two kicks off mid-conversation, assuming the audience is totally caught up, and as if the year-long gap since Part One’s release never happened.
With all the talkie stuff out of the way from the first half, you’d expect this one to be all-explosions, all the time, and you’d be right… once we get through another forty-five minutes or so of more talkie stuff. Part Two takes a long time to get Katniss (Lawrence) back into the thick of the action, as we watch the chess-board of duplicitous (or are they?) characters set up around her: President Coin (Moore) and former Games-maker Plutarch (Hoffman) do a lot of backroom skulduggery as they continue to simultaneously use Katniss as a catalyst for uprising in the undecided districts while also trying to keep a lid on her own rebellious nature; Peeta (Hutcherson) flits back and forth between sympathy-worthy PTS victim and rage-fuelled assassin with eyes only for the Mockingjay; while Gale (Hemsworth) takes up arms at the front-line of the war, still not entirely sure where he fits into this lob-sided love-triangle.
Once Katniss and crew do eventually leave District 13 for the Capitol and have discovered that President Snow (Sutherland) has turned the entire city into one giant, booby-trapped arena, Part Two finally kicks into top gear, and for forty-five glorious minutes, we’re given the climax we’ve all been longing for. Director Francis Lawrence taps into his own back-catalogue of I Am Legend for the creepily abandoned street scenes and the subterranean zombie attacks, the latter of which has the bleeping tracker and claustrophobic setting which will automatically bring to mind Aliens, which is never a bad thing. From there, it steps up another gear for a prolonged shoot-out that is pure Saving Private Ryan, and just as things are hitting a crescendo… the movie ends… except it doesn’t…
There’s another forty-five minutes of exposition and prologue, filled with painfully obvious plot-twists and character developments. The death of a major character (not a spoiler, it’s not as if you went into this expecting everyone to survive) isn’t given the requisite room to breathe, while other, less-worthy plot beats are given so much space that could start suffering from agoraphobia. When we got that somewhat cheesy coda at the end of Deathly Hallows Part 2, it felt earned because we’d been with these characters for seven years of wizard school over eight movies, but it’s only been a little over two years since the beginning of Katniss’ journey to becoming the Mockingjay, so the extended, The Return of the King-esque multi-endings feels a little unearned.
Perhaps time will be kinder on this finale, as behind the bluster of the broken promise of an explosive finish, there’s still a level of intelligence and viciousness at play you don’t normally see in a blockbuster series of this scale. The war tactics used by both the rebellion and the Capitol blur the lines for Katniss as to who’s side we should really be on, and J-Law absolutely sells every scene she’s given to her utmost ability. There’s no sense that just because this a Young Adult adaptation that the hugely impressive supporting cast shouldn’t arrive with their A-game, and it shows that the likes of Gwendoline Christie, Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson are more than happy to show up in what amount to little more than glorified cameos, not to mention that this is the very last time we’ll get Philip Seymour Hoffman on the big screen, and while it’s obvious which scenes had to be worked around his passing, it’s still great to see him again.
While it’s easy to place the success of the series solely at Jennifer’s feet, a lot must be said for Francis “No Relation” Lawrence, a music-video director done good. After the solid but murky outing of the first Hunger Games, F-Law came in with Catching Fire and essentially saved the day by taking something more than a little ridiculous (sentient tidal waves, killer monkeys) and making it more than a little great. Having to stick closely to the source material – which itself was hacked from a hexalogy to a trilogy by its publishers – didn’t give him much room to manoeuvre, but establishing a vivid visual palate and create some edge-of-the-seat actions sequences shows he’s not just another journeyman direction. The Hunger Games may have ended with bang, and then a whimper, but we’re still excited to see what both the Lawrences get up to next.