The fourth and final installment of “The Hunger Games” series picks up where Part 1 ended. That is to say, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from being strangled by Peeta ( Josh Hutcherson) — an on again/off again love interest who was paired with Everdeen since the first Hunger Games. While the subject matter of “The Hunger Games” is pretty grim (i.e., children are taken from their villages by the Capital City government to take part in deadly games where only one child survives), the first two films were able to offer a contrast to the violence with a number of scenes focusing on the profligate culture of the Capital City with its outlandish fashion trends, abundance of food, and obsession with the spectacle of showmanship — as embodied by the games themselves, but also in the main commentator on TV, Ceaser Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). The absurdity of Flickerman’s showman’s laugh, quick wit, and faux sincerity provided a nice counterpoint to the dour proceedings, but that shtick could only last so long as the stakes started to get more complicated with the introduction of District 13 — the one district that Panem failed to control.
While the good guys/bad guys dynamic was easy to portray in the first two films, by “Mockingjay,” it got a little more muddy. President Snow, while certainly capable of tremendous evil to maintain power, isn’t the only one who has a desire for an iron grip on the masses. And therein lies the rub with Mockingjay: the political and military battles are leading to a larger paradigm shift in Panem, but the story is mostly focused on Katniss, Peeta, and Gale as that love triangle shows its stresses and strains through the course of a “made for media” trek by Katniss and crew into the Capital City for a takeover.
The love triangle is quite boring (and always has been), and that means that Katniss has become a somewhat boring character as all the big action mostly takes place off-screen. Don’t worry, there are real traps set for Katniss and her group along the way into the Capital City, and people in her unit do die, but we know Katniss isn’t going to be one of the casualties of war because she has to have a final showdown with President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The events around Katniss are bigger than her, and she’s often relegated to fleeing from bad things like oil that has bear trap-like contraptions embedded in the liquid, or feral half-human/half-beast creatures who dwell in the Capital City’s sewers. Those moments, however, are woven into the story to give the narrative some action-adventure excitement, but it’s not as thrilling as I had hoped.
Concluding a story as complex as Mockingjay is not easy. Indeed, Suzanne Collins’ novel is very different from the other two for a reason. It’s clear she wasn’t interested in a boilerplate end to the series, so the tone and story were much more intricate and somber. The movie stayed faithful to the book for the most part, and while it was difficult to explore the political machinations and various levels of media manipulation that’s in the book, the film was able to focus on some of what Collins wrote about in her novel. However, it was not always done in an effective way, which is why the film doesn’t rise the level of greatness the first two films did. It’s still a very good film, but because there’s so much riding on the big finale, it comes as more of a whimper than a bang. Is it worth seeing? If you’ve invested time and money into the first three films, then yes, get thee to the theater and see “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.” If you haven’t, well… you can always start watching the DVDs.