Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)



Every so often, the cinematic hype machine will transcend simply creating interest in a given film and generate a legitimate film event. Undoubtedly, the big film event for this year is the upcoming release of the latest Star Wars installment but, for reasons I’ll get into when I inevitably look at that film, this is the one I was looking forward to more. This single film is a far bigger deal than I think even the fans and filmmakers realize: The progenitor for the latest trend in YA adaptations that will likely carry on for years after this has left cinemas, the finale to the most hyped film series since Harry Potter and the latest continuation of a franchise that has maintained the kind of quality control that most directors would sell their souls to maintain. Hell, I probably only qualify as a surface fan and I still reckon that this is probably the best young adult film series that we’ll get for a long while. But this is why I usually voice against hype on this blog: This could all be leading to sheer disappointment, much like what happened when The Hobbit ended. Time to find out if this ending only leaves us hungry for more… and don’t worry, I’ll whip myself for that one later. This is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.
 
The plot: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), after seeing what the Capitol has done to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is ready to take down the regime and kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland). While Snow is still trying to end the rebellion through his propaganda, President Coin (Julianne Moore) is using Katniss as the Mockingjay to campaign for her side of the fight. As the two opposing views duke it out with their words, Katniss, Peeta and the other Victors set out to put those words into action and take the fight to the Capitol, in a battle that will end the war one way or another.

One of the things that I neglected to bring up when talking about the first part, which really only became noticeable on repeat viewing, is that Katniss was probably at her most Bechdel Test failing in that film. I know that that particular test isn’t exactly reliable for its own purposes (I mean, Fifty Shades Of Grey technically passed it for God’s sake), but that doesn’t change how annoying it got at times how often she’d cry out about what’s happening to Peeta at any given moment. I only bring it up because of how noticeable the absence of such dialogue is in this film. Katniss is strong, smart and assertive, all things required to deal with the increasingly dark moral decisions she has to make this time around. This is helped by Jennifer Lawrence’s performance which, even for a career like her’s, might serve as a personal highpoint with just how powerful it is. Opposite her is Josh Hutcherson, and here is where I was expecting the film to falter; thank you, genius editor of the trailers that showed him rather prominently, despite how the last film ended! However, I am once again damn impressed by how much he gives to this role, portraying his character’s struggle between his programming and his true nature masterfully. As much as I would like to highlight every good performance in the supporting cast individually, I’d complete my word quota on that alone; it’s that good. Considering this is the finale of a fairly high-profile series, it’s good to see that no-one slouches on screen.

This film carries the themes of war and the strength of good P.R. to the next logical conclusion after the previous installment. With both sides doing everything they can to boost the morale of their respective troops, and delivering contradictory information in the process, the writing here delves into the crises that can emerge out of trying to sort through the details. This is particularly true with Peeta, whose character arc almost reaches the realms of a psychological thriller in how it’s portrayed. It also delves into the unfortunate truths about mortality in times of war and the tough decisions involved concerning who can be afforded to die to achieve a higher goal. This is an immensely dark film, but it’s helped by how the characters deal with it: They keep what’s important in focus, which means no love triangle shenanigans to muddle up the matter, and their attitudes never let them completely surrender to the despair. For as pitch-black as the film can get, both literally and figuratively, there is never a point where it consumes the proceedings, which makes it a bit easier to swallow. However, this script may be a little too good at portraying the political manipulations of the characters. After a while, the artifice that the characters are putting up grows a little too familiar, which ends up bringing the artifice of the film itself into question. With the script spending this much time on highlighting the importance of specific words being said, and creating snarky remarks in response to said words, the fourth wall ends up being cracked without anyone actually touching it. Then again, considering co-writer Danny Strong was also behind the awkward machinations of The Butler, I’m willing to let that go. Besides, even when the wall cracks, the film’s reality is still kept intact, which is far more than I can say for some other YA adaptations I’ve seen this year.

After the more dialogue-driven first part, this film doesn’t hold back when it comes to its action set pieces. Whether it’s the tension-filled scenes in the underground, the running scenes from the wreckage, or the firefights against the Peacekeepers, they are all very well executed. In fact, even considering how high the pedigree was for action earlier this year, some of these sequences measure up to being some of the best 2015 has had to offer. The tension-creating scenes are teeming with nail-biting moments, which the film never betrays for the sake of cheap jump scares, and the action scenes are kinetic and nicely choreographed, giving each character their moment of badass. A lot of the best action scenes are clumped together around the middle, and while I would complain about the sequencing, said clump is paced superbly and each segment fulfills their intended purpose excellently.

Considering how this film is meant to close out the series (Please shut up, Jon Feltheimer, and let it end here), it’s probably worth time looking at how this film works as a finale as well as on its own terms. Well, as sacrilegious as it may sound, I think this two-parter worked out even better than Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t carry quite as much emotional weight; the ultimate ending here felt a bit too treacly after what the bulk of the film consisted of and Harry Potter had six previous films worth of build-up compared to the two here. But, in terms of overall content, I maintain that this series did it better as the action is more balanced between the two; Deathly Hallows Part 1 was pretty much just preamble for the real finale, whereas this story felt a lot more deserving of being split into two parts. It feels a lot more suitable here than with Harry Potter or with Twilight or I can already tell with Divergent. While the rest of the critical world is calling out studios for splitting their final films into two films as a cheap, money-grubbing strategy, this coupled with the first part might be one of the few times where it genuinely feels warranted.

All in all, while this film doesn’t have a singular moment that hits as hard as the Hanging Tree sequence from the first part, this stays consistent with the series’ track record of improving upon each installment because of how effective its entirety is. The acting is outstanding, quelling my own attempts to highlight the best as even the supporting cast are all amazing, the action scenes are varied and very well-executed, the writing continues the themes of the series and brings them to their bleakest possible conclusion to great effect and, as a conclusion to the franchise, it more than pays off the build-up of both the first part and the rest of the films. This is by no means a happy film but, considering how many other third-wave YA films try to be dark and largely fail to follow through, this is a very welcome film in its own right as well. This ranks higher than The Lobster, as this couples intelligent writing with great on-screen action; that, and said writing isn’t quite as blunt as that in Lobster. However, in terms of an overall experience, this falls short of the transcendence gotten from The Walk. If you still haven’t yet gotten into these films, please do yourself a favour and check them out.

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