For a film — and franchise — that imagines revolution as a war fought through imagery, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is as visually dull and lifeless as any modern cinematic spectacular. Helmed, like ‘Catching Fire‘ and ‘Mockingjay – Part 1,’ by Francis Lawrence, this climactic installment is an aesthetically glum, monotonous affair, awash in grey, black, and grey-black hues that accurately reflect the material’s oppression-of-the-masses spirit, yet woefully weigh the action down. Imagined in Bourne-ish vérité terms, ‘Part 2’ is all shaky, dimly lit close-ups pockmarked with sparse instances of true widescreen grandeur — moments that tease the audience with the epic scope and sweeping flair that are otherwise so sorely absent from these wannabe-rousing proceedings.
Completing Lawrence’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ third and final book, ‘Part 2‘ picks up where its predecessor left off, with symbol-of-the-insurgency Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stuck in yet another anonymous concrete underground bunker, where she’s struggling to cope with the fact that her Hunger Games beau Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) still wants to kill her. Peeta’s murderous urges are the result of his having been tortured, and brainwashed, by evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). However, the specifics of this mind-alteration are as fuzzily conceived as Peeta’s eventual recovery from his condition, which takes place during the course of Katniss and her comrades’ journey to the Capitol.
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‘Part 2‘ has very little in the way of actual drama, instead indulging in scene after scene of Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) — the hometown boyfriend whom Katniss continues to string along, even though they both know she’s sweet on Peeta — and a host of anonymous villain-fodder sitting around bombed-out locales, or navigating rubble-strewn streets, all while talking about the importance of their mission and Katniss’ role in Snow’s overthrow. Consequently, the film’s first half barely appears awake, much less motivated to thrill. Worse still, the one tantalizing idea in Danny Strong and Peter Craig’s screenplay — namely, that Katniss and her squad are being held back from the frontlines so they can better “act out” their military heroism for propaganda purposes — is raised and then discarded, largely because the writers lose interest in keeping their heroine on the sideline as a passive witness to paradigm-shifting history, and are soon thrusting her into the heart of battle.
While ‘Part 2’ neuters its narrative’s most intriguing thematic thread, it does deliver one phenomenal sequence: an “Aliens”-by-way-of-“The Descent” trip through dank subterranean corridors that culminates with a clash against hordes of faceless mutant “mutts.” Unfortunately, while Lawrence’s direction is temporarily energized by this chaotic combat, during which Katniss exhibits bow-and-arrow dexterity and gallant selflessness, he fails to maintain any sense of momentum as his protagonists arrive at a confrontation outside Snow’s mansion, and Katniss comes to realize what the audience has long known: that rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) may have her own selfish motivations.
Following a template modeled more closely on “The Matrix” sequels than on “Star Wars” or “The Lord of the Rings,” ‘Part 2’ is so self-serious that it loses any sense of humor or adventure — and, also, most of its internal logic. Katniss and company’s navigation of the Capitol entails avoiding traps set by Snow and his game-makers, all of them so nonsensical (especially an oil trap that, from a purely logistical standpoint, is absurd) and easily overcome that the filmmakers rarely seem committed to generating legitimate suspense or excitement. That’s a debilitating failure, given that there’s no ambiguity about the final good-vs.-evil outcome, and also considering that the film’s more mature, grave concerns — the scars of warfare, the viability of democracy, the courage required to have true faith in love — are ultimately undercut by plotting that reduces the story to simply an adults-can’t-be-trusted fable.
A centerpiece in which Katniss hides amidst refugees in order to gain access to the President (whom she aims to kill), as well as a Snow speech about invading hordes, prove uncomfortably timely reflections of the recent terror attacks in Paris. More troubling than such (superficial) art-mirroring-reality similarities, however, is the way in which this concluding chapter rarely gives the charismatic Lawrence anything to do other than scowl, weep, rage, and articulate the very post-traumatic emotions that a better script would have dramatized. Lawrence is never less than commanding in her last outing as the fiery dystopian heroine, but the most heartening liberation proffered by ‘Part 2’ is its star’s escape from this one-note fantasy series. [C+]