I didn’t read The Hunger Games or its sequels. When the first film came to theaters, I had heard a whole lot of people talking about the books, but I didn’t know anything beyond the “It’s pretty much Battle Royale” premise. When the film released, the first thing I noticed was that Flixist really, really liked it. I was shocked at that score when I first saw it: A 90? Really? But when I saw it, I understood. I didn’t love it as much as Jaime did, but I thought it was excellent and probably the most interesting YA adaptation I’d ever seen.
I remembered how angry all of the people who read the books were, though. It seemed like I was actually better off having not read them. So I decided that rather than trying to catch up, I would go into each film blind. I would enjoy The Hunger Games Cinematic Universe as its own thing and never read the books. I would also avoid trailers and other spoilers as much as humanly possible. With Catching Fire and Mockingjay – Part 1, both reviewed by Flixist’s resident YA buff, Nick Valdez, who I’m stepping in for at the moment, the series went in directions that I didn’t expect.
And so too with Mockingjay – Part 2. I went in as a fan of a movie series, looking forward to a hopefully thrilling end to the four year journey and knowing absolutely nothing about what it contained. It occurred to me only as the lights were going down in the theater that maybe I should have taken another glance at the earlier films. But it didn’t really matter. If you haven’t seen the earlier Hunger Games films, you’ll be completely lost, but if you’re just going to the theater for your yearly Panem checkup, you’ll be fine. And you’ll likely enjoy yourself too.
But if you check your watch at any point during the film, you may wonder what sort of dark magic the filmmakers used to slow down time.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Release Date: November 20, 2015
“Whoa. Philip Seymour Hoffman.”
Not having prepared for the film in any way, I had completely forgotten that Mockingjay marked the actor’s final performance. More than a year and a half after he died, he’s onscreen again. And it’s weird. Really, really weird. When he first showed up, moments into the film, the person I was sitting next to turned: “Is he real?”
The answer to the question – “No” – is simple, but the implications of that answer are a little more complicated. It was decided pretty much immediately that there would be no CGI Philip Seymour Hoffman walking around, monologuing in place of the actor. It’s a sign of respect, and it’s one that I commend the team for doing. I’m sure the pressure to digitize him was fairly high, because his absence is felt rather heavily. Plutarch Heavensbee (ugh) is an important character to the plot, someone always lurking in the shadows and pulling the strings. But not in Mockingjay – Part 2. Here, he simply is a shadow. The film cries out for his presence, and a scene late in the film was switched up in a way that is functional but also fairly awkward. Hoffman’s death complicated things, as such things so often do.
That’s actually a good way to describe Mockingjay – Part 2: complicated. It’s complicated because it’s the second part of a movie that didn’t need to be two parts. These two (good) 2+ hour films could have been turned into one great three hour one. Heck, you could probably go shorter, because fully half of Part 2‘s runtime is taken up by scenes that aren’t “bad” but also don’t really do much. There’s a lot of sitting around and talking, or walking around and talking, or running around and talking. The pacing is molasses slow, and ultimately a film that is only a bit over two hours (with 10-15 minutes of credits on top) feels nearly double that. This is honestly felt like one of the longest films I have ever seen, because so much time is spent on a series of very different things, but they’re presented in such a way that it seems like the movie is just going to go on forever. And it does, sort of. A lot of it builds to a few different things, and though they all ultimately come to pass, it feels like they were glossed over to make way for less interesting things.
Which isn’t to say that the film is boring, because it’s not. It’s just slow. And though it ratchets up tension at various points with interesting and strange (and kinda horrific) setpieces, the momentum doesn’t continue to build. After the sequence, it just stops. And so, bizarrely, it actually feels like there are multiple films worth of narrative here that have been stripped down. It’s almost episodic, with a “beginning,” middle, and end for each of the different plotlines. But a lot of those episodes are just filler, and the ones that aren’t could have easily been much shorter.
As the second part in a two-part film, discussing specifics seems even less important than usual. You decided whether or not you were going to see this movie as soon as the credits in Mockingjay – Part 1 rolled. If you saw that cliffhanger and needed to know what happens to Katniss, Peeta, Snow, and everyone else, then you’re hooked and you’ll see this movie no matter what. And if you decided you didn’t care? I’m not going to change your mind, because this movie isn’t either. There’s nothing about the narrative here that is going to appeal to anyone who didn’t like the first three movies or didn’t want to see what’s next. I’m here not really to tell you if the movie is good, because ultimately that doesn’t matter. I’m just here to think about what the experience of seeing it’s like. And it boils down to this: Exhausting or not, I liked Mockingjay – Part 2.
As a fan of the earlier films, I feel relatively satisfied. It’s worth it to see where these characters end up and see who they are underneath it all. Some of the characters are given weird motivations that I didn’t totally understand and others grew in interesting ways. But at least it all ended. After two years of cliffhangers, it was nice to get see credits set by something other than a close-up of Katniss’s stressed-out face. The actual ending made me groan out loud for four solid minutes, but at this point I just wanted to know. And I got my answers. I don’t need anything more from The Hunger Games. I can go on and live my life and never think about it again. I can wish that a tighter and more cohesive film ended the franchise, but why? We’ve got an ending, it did what it had to do, did it competently, and now it’s done.
Goodbye, Hunger Games. It’s been fun.