Monday, December 7, 2015
“Constantine” director Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” (** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an adequate but belated installment in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling, post-apocalyptic, young adult adventure series set in a dystopian society where a dame armed with a bow and arrow topples a totalitarian regime. Lionsgate Studios could have concluded their chartbuster franchise dexterously with the third movie, combining both parts of “Mockingjay” into a single escapade. Mind you, scenarists Peter Craig and Danny Strong would have had to perform some judicious editing, whittling down the placeholder first half, and then tightening up the second half. Basically, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” is neither as audacious as “The Hunger Games” nor its spectacular sequel “Catching Fire.” Aside from Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson, everybody else participates in largely scaled back roles. Sam Claflin and Julianne Moore remain on screen slightly longer and make a greater lasting impression. Donald Sutherland, smirking through his fluffy white beard, returns as Katniss’ nefarious nemesis President Snow. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman gets a few scenes. Woody Harrelson lurks at our heroine’s elbow as does Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, and Willow Shields. Stanley Tucci shows up only once in a television broadcast segment for Snow. Suffice to say, four of the franchise characters fail to survive. At fadeout, one major character simply turns on heel, withdraws from a room, never to be heard from again, in a bland exit.
Lawrence doesn’t have much to work with, and this straightforward saga isn’t as creative as the first two blockbusters. “Mockingjay 2” contains a few exciting scenes, but the demise of its primary villain--whose demise we have savored for so long--takes place out-of-sight. Meantime, Katniss Everdeen stands front and center, and inevitably Mockingjay 2” rehabilitates Peeta Mellark as her battling beau. Sadly, Peeta’s return generates little pizzazz. The action follows our heroine and her companions as they plunge into the Capitol on a behind-the-lines mission. They must wend their way through an explosive obstacle course of booby-traps until Katniss can execute Snow. Unhappily, as much as she yearns to slaughter Snow, Lawrence and his scribes deprive Katniss of that golden opportunity. Committed Katniss fans familiar with Collins’ novels will appreciate this adaptation more than those who haven’t perused the novel. Essentially, two scenes overshadow the film. The first involves a rabid horde of cadaverous mutants in the sewer that attack them and then Katniss’ ultimate showdown with Resistance Army President Alma Coin.
“The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2” opens where the third feature abruptly ended. Meaning, if this is your first encounter with the franchise, you’re going to be puzzled by most of what ensues. Katniss has recovered from Peeta’s futile effort to strangle her, while he remains in restraints. Initially, she has trouble uttering her own name. Eventually, she embarks on a mission into the District 2 war zone alongside long-time friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth of “The Expendables 2”) where an enemy shoots Katniss in the back. Predictably, Snow celebrates her death before he learns that she survived. Disgruntled about getting sidelined after her near-death experience, our pugnacious protagonist sneaks back into combat with a little help from smarmy Johanna Mason (Jena Malone of “Cold Mountain”), but she finds herself relegated to a propaganda mission as rebel forces enter the capital. Once again, Coin relies on Katniss for her propaganda value as the Mockingjay, while Katniss itches for the chance to kill Snow. Our heroes wield a gadget that enables them to detect the presence of booby traps. Snow has turned the Capitol into an obstacle course of deadly booby traps. Our courageous heroine and her unit face numerous close scrapes, and their brash adversaries make the same mistake again and again of thinking that they have eliminated Katniss while she emerges unscathed. Ultimately, Katniss’ two confrontations with Snow in the final quarter ignite few sparks. You don’t have to have read the book to figure out where the action is heading in this final quarter.
Director Francis Lawrence stages most of the story in claustrophobic tunnels and labyrinthine cityscapes. He lensed “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” not only in Atlanta, Georgia, but also abroad in Paris and Berlin. The liveliest scene unfolds in the sewer when the Mutts assault our heroes, and Katniss barely escapes from their jaws. Of course, not everybody survives this white-knuckled episode. Simultaneously, Katniss and company trigger booby traps among skyscraper buildings that unleash tons of tar. Unfortunately, these tense action scenes cannot compare with the more imaginative ones in “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” with their scenic settings. Part of the problem is the shortage of suspense. Although Katniss gets wounded early into the action, you know she cannot die. Any time that the audience knows more than the villains, a movie will suffer. Predictably, certain characters near her must bite the dust to maintain some modicum of tension. The persistent romantic triangle arises again. Peeta struggles to convince Katniss that he is no longer trustworthy. Meantime, Gale Hawthorne accompanies her, but it is clear he is not going to end up at her side when all is said and done. During an early scene, he complains that kissing Katniss is like kissing a drunk. Lawrence develops some suspense during the scene near the end when Katniss and Gale sneak into the Capitol masquerading as refugees bound for sanctuary at Snow’s headquarters. There are some anxious moments when Snow’s sentries look poised to pounce on our heroes.
Although “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” boasts impressive production values and a charismatic cast, Lionsgate Studio has allowed this once exhilarating franchise to linger beyond its expiration date. As sumptuously produced and splendidly cast as this installment is, the action seldom seems as fresh and spontaneous as it once was. Hollywood has always sought to milk their cash cows, but prolonging the inevitable when it has been dragged out far too long in the first place constitutes tedium.