After a pretty stellar second instalment, The Hunger Games series missed a gear with Mockingjay Part 1, a lethargic affair that seemed to be a product of studio gluttony as much as anything. Taking a leaf out of the Harry Potter playbook, the filmmakers decided to split the final episode into two parts, with the result that Part 1 felt very much like a starter to a main course that never arrived. The decision to split the finale into two parts doesn’t seem to have been justified artistically. A rousing second part would do much to justify the elongated climax but a similarly damp squib might well just highlight the Emperor’s glaring lack of attire.
With the whole of Panem on the brink of revolution, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is still struggling to live up to the tag of face of the resistance and beginning to comprehend her role in the fight to come. It dawns upon her that she must be the one to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and so she sets off with an elite army unit including previous Hunger Games champions; one-again, off-again love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a newly rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who is still showing the signs of his brainwashing.
I will say in support of Mockingjay Part 2: it is relentlessly bleak. We join the story with our characters at their lowest ebb and things get worse from there. The characters trudge through the burnt-out remnants of the Capitol, dodging lethal traps and, at one nicely taut moment, pursued by faceless zombies. As exercise in drab, post-apocalyptic dystopia, The Hunger Games certainly takes no prisoners. The trouble is this second part of the story still feels unforgivably protracted. Split in half and teased out over the better part of five hours of screen time (including Part 1), Mockingjay feels like so much dragging of feet. A dawdling, dreary mess in which precious little appears to occur, building to a crescendo that remains constantly out of reach. Inexcusably, after over four hours of false-starts, the payoff, when it does arrive, feels dubiously rushed.
A semi-interesting thematic offering of Katniss as the head of a corruptible revolution is largely glossed over, as is cinema’s least interesting love triangle. Hutcherson gets a little to chew upon as he fights against his brainwashing, struggling to trust his interest and re-discover the woman he loves but Hemsworth is all eyebrows, stubble and an earnest smile. Katniss takes her pick between these two insipid bores but only after one of them seems to bow out with little enough effort.
Donald Sutherland’s maniacal President Snow continues to provide a decent sense of fun, but when the inevitable showdown occurs, there’s a palpable sense of emptiness; something which I can only describe as a ‘false end’. After such a hefty investment in time, this feels like a perfunctory joining of the dots.
A children’s book of modest size spun out over two films of near-epic length. Call me cynical, but if you’re going to fleece me, stick to doing it just the once.
Sci-fi, War, Drama | USA, 2015 | 12| Lionsgate Film | 19th November 2015 (UK) | Dir.Francis Lawrence | Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, sam claflin, Julianne Moore