The Hunger Games is one of the most popular franchises in recent years, and when the final chapter of this worldwide phenomenon stormed into theatres it commanded a blockbuster $100m in its opening weekend. With Mockingjay – Part 2 topping box office charts everywhere, why then is the general response one of indifference and disappointment? Although the film had the fifth biggest opening of the year, it was still unable to match the blistering pace set by the first two instalments, continuing the downward economic trend of Mockingjay – Part 1 to become the lowest grossing domestic debut of the series. It would seem that both profits and excitement for the Girl On Fire may be burning out.
Part 2 begins where Part 1 left off, as Panem’s reluctant mockingjay Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) puts personal anguish aside to lead the Districts in their war against the Capitol, with one objective of her own: kill President Snow. Following the same pattern of the youth franchises that came before it, The Hunger Games‘ finale gets the two-part treatment, a creative decision that undoubtedly contributed to the lackluster drama and tension across the Mockingjay films. Unlike The Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, which are both dense seven hundred page novels, Suzanne Collins’ final effort simply doesn’t contain enough material to warrant the story being unfolded across two films. As a result Part 2 suffers glaring issues of pacing, starting off all too slowly, and then constantly sabotaging any momentum it builds of the Capitol’s overthrow as Katniss and her team lumber tediously towards their goal. In truth, it plays more like the third-act of a whole than a full film in its own right.
While Part 2 takes its time in establishing Katniss’ new role within the rebel army and presenting Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) struggle to decipher what’s real, it fails to allow many other characters much room to breathe. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is rather underused and begins to come across like a spare part as the film progresses, focussing much more heavily on the Katniss and Peeta relationship. The love triangle that’s established between these three characters seems forced, and the conversation between Gale and Peeta about who Katniss will choose is one of the film’s most awkward scenes in both its contrived set up and stale dialogue. This romantic arc is also never developed beyond this point, with no suggestion that the decision poses much of a dilemma for Katniss – it’s obvious even for those viewers who haven’t read the book which character she will end up with.
One unfaltering aspect within Mockingjay – Part 2, and indeed all of the Hunger Games films, is the commanding acting of its star Jennifer Lawrence. Not only does she show that blockbuster action movies can be successful with a female lead, she also impressively negotiates the emotional trauma as well as the charisma and physicality that such a role demands. Lawrence is without a doubt the heart of the film, and it is her powerful and intimate performance that carries Mockingjay when it falls short in other areas.
In addition to Jennifer Lawrence, another integral component to the success of the Hunger Games franchise is its highly original action sequences. While audiences have generally favoured the controlled nature and programmed stunts of the Games themselves to the political conflict depicted in the first Mockingjay film, Part 2 reintroduces the imaginative action utilised earlier in the series. As Katniss and the rebels enter the Capitol, they are faced with a maze of ‘pods’ designed to kill them and suddenly, the city’s streets have become the venue for a kind of symbolic ’76th Hunger Games’. Though most of the film’s violence has the same ominous quality found in that of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the majority of the sequences were already revealed in the trailer, reducing the suspense in these moments and ultimately leaving the viewer disappointed there wasn’t more action which they hadn’t already seen.
While it does suffer from some structural issues, Mockingjay – Part 2 as a film must be praised for its unapologetic commitment to exploring such difficult political themes, especially at a time when anxieties about terrorism and governmental corruption are so rife. One of the only action blockbusters to deal with the implications of civilian casualties, Part 2 shamelessly portrays women and children caught in the crossfire, and as a result paints a disconcertingly real picture of war within its fictional world.