The Hunger Games 4, Mockingjay 2 (***) is grim and joyless

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – 2015

Director Francis Lawrence
Screenplay Peter Craig, Danny Strong based on the book by Suzanne Collins
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

It is somewhere in the midst of the second movie that I realized The Hunger Games movies were not going to escape the gravitational downward pull of the insipidly morose books. Katniss (Lawrence) is feeling all sorts of bad and conflicted and she is surrounded by folks only slightly less bad and conflicted who are trying to convince her that she should push whatever it is she is feeling and just go with it. While the books have an endless and tortured internal dialogue, we can mostly only see our hero frown incessantly. There’s gotta be a smile somewhere in all of those action adventure heroics. Three books and now four movies in, the next smile would be the first.

Yes, it is easy to understand in a world of oppression and media manipulation that the people would be stuck in some sort of viewing mode, unable to rise up while being entertained. The story never pays much more than lip service to the sociological concepts of Snow’s rule. Granted, it barely had the time to do more than push characters from one presentation to the next, then one booby trap to the one that follows.

So there is this underground movement, you know. And it takes Katniss by surprise in the beginning of the non-eventful first Mockingjay film. She spends time trying to figure out if she is going to represent these folks who kept themselves hidden from her for two chapters and now say she is their champion.  Of course she gives in to their requests to be a mascot, but not because they want it to happen.  Got it?

Throughout we see characters come and go. There always seems to be one scene or another taking place in a burned out, bombed out section of town which is now cleared of bodies, but has plenty  of debris. People from earlier parts arrive on scene, discuss a few points and then explain what has to happen next.  We keep seeing the same people, even though they really don’t represent much to us. Familiar? Yes. Brave? Apparently.Charismatic? No.

These feel like people who left the set last time we saw them, went straight to makeup and came to the next set they were supposed to be on. There are endless explanations for motivations behind this action or that inaction. Most of these are based on winning a war of hearts and minds that we never really can be convinced matter all that much.  So often we hear of collateral damage and intentional wipe outs of entire districts, who is left to convince?

As pensive and stilted as Part I is, Mockingjay Part II is not hesitant. We hear the leader of the resistance Coin (Moore, at her most distant) tell Katniss no, you can’t go into the capital to kill Snow. Katniss leaves, so Coin sends a bunch of her buddies to go with her. From there it’s another Hunger Games. Each corner has something lurking behind it, and sacrifices (according to one’s position in the credits) must be made.

There is a lot going on here, and some of it could be pretty neat, but it all feels so darned sad. What message are they trying to get across?  The politics of violent resistance and change requires we use the same tactics to survive.  Got it. Is there any sort of reward for bucking the system? It certainly doesn’t feel like surviving counts as one.

What is the benefit to having watched now four films just to find out that those resisting are as bad as those they are fighting against? It certainly is a worthy message, but it feels like homework the way they present it here. To her credit, Lawrence is not nearly the sad sack that is Katniss on the printed page. She is driven and determined this time around and still not following the instructions of her “advisers.” While still not that fun of a character, she at least is no fool and will not succumb to her obviously challenged emotional state.

Her two suitors, Gale (Hemsworth) and Peeta (Hutcherson) have little to no appeal. Peeta is a tough sell from the first part, being a pacifist and lovelorn at once. Gale has turned into a willing accomplice of the new regime and that makes him about as unique as a Stormtrooper.

So if you are looking for things to blow up, expectant surprises to pop out or just plain misery to abound, you may like this film. If you want the same thing, but you want your daughter to feel like she can be a hero, better stick to The Force Awakens.

(*** out of *****)

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