Most young adult novel adaptations rarely make it to a sequel, let alone an entire series run. Hollywood is littered with the discarded books producers once highly sought: “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Golden Compass,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “The Mortal Instruments,” “Percy Jackson.” Out of the wake of the massively successful "Harry Potter" series came the supernatural sexual fantasy “Twilight” and the girl power in a dystopian future hit of “The Hunger Games.” Brought to life on the big screen by then-newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, it has grown to become one of the biggest success stories in the genre and paved the way for similar movies like the “Divergent” series.
In the final “Hunger Games” movie, “Mockingjay – Part 2,” we start just where Part 1 left us, with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) recovering from a surprise attack from her former fiancé, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Plans with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) are underway to storm the last fortress of the Capitol and kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and Katniss sees to it that she is on the front lines of that battle. But Snow is not her only enemy, and Katniss must do her best to save her loved ones from both sides of the battlefield.
— Mockingjay - Part 2 (@TheHungerGames) November 17, 2015
Lawrence gives one of her least passionate performances this time around, but it hardly compares to whatever poker face Hutcherson was trying to pass off as serious acting. As with many YA adaptations, the power in "Mockingjay -- Part 2" is in the supporting cast. Sutherland has some morbid fun as the cruel president, yet Julianne Moore never digs her heels into her character of District 13’s President Coin. The reliable Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) and Elizabeth Banks (Effie) bring sorely needed levity to the grim script. The ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman haunts this movie in almost a literal way. He is clearly imposed in several shots and after a certain point, his character has hardly anything to say. He just floats silently on the right-hand side of the screen.
It is strange to hear some of the dialogue we’ve become accustomed to in these movies in light of recent events. Sure, it’s much of the same rhetoric we’ve heard in earlier “Hunger Games” films, but they echoed louder than before as I left the theater. In a scene of district commanders arguing strategy over how to best neutralize enemy forces, Katniss expresses concern about the potential loss of civilian life and adds, “There’s no limitations to what humans will do to each other.” During an evacuation of the Capitol, President Snow openly welcomes refugees to his white palace, but violence escalates at the border for a devastating reveal that leaves the silhouettes of children’s limp bodies on screen for a second before the next attack. This may be set in a fictional future, but it is intended to be a product of its time.
While director Francis Lawrence’s filming of the “Hunger Games” series has improved over time, the stories have stumbled over its repetitious conceit. The first movie, directed by Gary Ross, introduced audiences to this bloodthirsty future where peace is upheld by a kids-killing-kids competition. The second, “Catching Fire,” with Lawrence at the helm, was more or less a creative rehash of the games in different settings. The first half of “Mockingjay” introduced new cynical themes about media manipulation, propaganda and branding that were only lightly addressed before. We see the fruits of those labors fuel the flames of the first half of “Mockingjay – Part 2” as the embers slowly curl up and burn out by the end.
You see, after everything fans and readers have been through with Katniss, the movie ends on the same unsatisfactory tacked-on ending as the book. The strained relationship between Peeta and Katniss never quite warms up to that sudden 20-years-later jump, although now “Hunger Games” have their equivalent “I love you”/“I know” moment (“Do you love me? Real or unreal?”). It’s a rather disappointing crash and burn for a series that brought attention to positive action role models for young girls.
“Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2” opens in theaters Nov. 20.