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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Mockingjay-Part-2-final-Poster

And thus ends the Hunger Games franchise, not with a bang but with a somber, reflective finale. The young adult series has managed to be more than above average among its peers, and Part 2 of Mockingjay is no different. Apart from a few missteps, Part 2 is a fitting send off, with some of the series’s best action sequences with characters we’ve come to know over three great films.

I was one of those who cried wolf when Mockingjay was to be split into two parts, and perhaps I can still see a case for it, but this would work much better as a three-hour film including bits of Part 1. Regardless though, we pick up right where we left off, with virtually no room to breathe. The rebels of District 13 and their mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, are planning to storm the Capitol and overthrow President Snow. Complicating things is Peeta, under the influence of the Capitol after his torture in the previous film.

I’ve always admired the Hunger Games franchise’s ability to show the not-so-glamorous effects of war. The series always manages to remain topical, and Part 2 of Mockingjay explores the most relevant stuff to date. Gone are the Hunger Games, a deathmatch between tributes of all 12 districts, only mentioned in passing in this film, but their everlasting effects resonate all over Panem. Here is a nation that has had enough of tyranny, and its citizens are willing to go to desperate measures to end it.

In its depiction of the war-torn Capitol, Part 2 feels like a completely different film from the others. Katniss and her squad attempt to invade the Capitol, but are thwarted right and left by “pods,” little traps set by the Gamemakers (in a little mini-Hunger Games). These scenes give us most of the action, and boy is it good. One trap sets off a pool of black sludge that obliterates everything in its path, leading to some exciting sequences. Director Francis Lawrence has gotten confident in directing his team of young actors, and he can trust them to deliver in these scenes.

Unfortunately, Part 2‘s finale leaves a bit to be desired. After the consistent first half, ending in a brilliant wade through the sewers of the Capitol where our heroes are attacked by mutts (the clear highlight), the film sort of fizzles out. It’s here where most of the faults of the novel Mockingjay are really felt, as the film doesn’t have the impact that it should. There are many deaths throughout the film, many of them our favorite characters, but the film doesn’t seem interested in exploring the impact that these deaths have on our characters. I get that there isn’t much time to grieve, war isn’t pretty, etc. But this blasé attitude leads to a finale that just burns out. It all culminates in one of the most predictable final scenes I’ve ever seen. In reading the books, what Katniss does is unexpected, yet in the film it’s all too obvious. Leading dialogue and poor writing end up making what should be a shocking scene into one you’re just begging to be over.

None of this is the fault of the actors, though, who continue to flesh out these characters and make them well-rounded. Principally is Jennifer Lawrence, who has grown just like her protagonist. She goes from timid District 12 worker to defiant tribute to rebellious victor, and the transformation shows in Lawrence’s performance. She doesn’t exactly have “that scene” this time around, but Katniss has been beaten down by war, and Lawrence’s face shows that. Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson flesh out Katniss’s love triangle, and they continue to give solid performances, with Gale providing as Katniss’s sounding board and Peeta her rock, but they’re hardly the most interesting of the bunch. But Part 2 belongs to Donald Sutherland through and through. He sinks his teeth into President Snow, making a villain you love to hate. He’s so vile, so malicious, and an outstanding scene in his greenhouse (beautiful by the way) reveals new shades of his character.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is an uneven film, but it’s a fitting finale. Despite a weak final thirty minutes and an epilogue mainly designed to be fan-service, Part 2 is a culmination of the themes explored over the last four films. They’ve become commentaries for society in very accessible and teen-friendly ways. Great performances have given us new stars who we’ll definitely be seeing more from, and the Hunger Games’s legacy will definitely be paying dividends for years to come.

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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Insurgent

Insurgent_poster

 

There’s a good movie hidden somewhere inside Insurgent, but it struggles to come out. All of the pieces are there, with nice action sequences and some solid performances, but whatever is left of a plot is simply fraying at the edges. The result is a sloppy film, that feels cobbled together, with little narrative cohesion. It’s not a misfire, but the Divergent series is turning out to be quite the snoozer.

Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off, with Tris, Four, and the rest of the Dauntless rebels escaping the city to gather allies for the attack on Erudite, led by the nefarious Jeanine. I’m a fan of the book series, and while I thought Insurgent was by far the weakest, I didn’t think it was this weak. Director Robert Schwentke and his screenwriting team have made significant changes to the core material. Normally I don’t mind when things are changed for a film adaptation, but some of the changes are straight up bizarre, and make no sense in the overall narrative. They added a “box” that only divergents can open as a sort of “one ring” for the franchise, but this is ridiculous and only serves purpose to show Kate Winslet’s acting strengths.

A few other changes make Insurgent feel less like the second of a trilogy, and just more of the same from Divergent. In The Hunger Games’s second film (a book adaptation done right), things are changed, but they ramp up the action, romance, and drama to make an altogether more thrilling film. Insurgent is just a snoozefest sometimes. There isn’t a sense of urgency, so vital in the novel, that is just absent here. Random characters popping in and out only never to be seen again, plot inconsistencies, a ridiculous ending. Man, this movie just did not make any sense. I’d almost recommend not reading the book and seeing it as a non-book reader. Seems like Roth took out everything that made the books special for this film adaptation.

Like I said, though, Insurgent isn’t a total flop. The pieces are there, they’re just scattershot. I love the ideals that being divergent represents, and both the book and film series hit these themes well. Seeing Chicago all torn up allows for some cool imagery, and all of the five factions have their own unique flair. Take Amity for instance: a farm village run by kindness. Contrast it with Erudite: towering technological fortresses and stoicism. The five factions are very cool and very unique, and the film retains the best parts of what made the first film so great.

Acting this time around is good, not great. Shailene Woodley, whom I loved in the first film, doesn’t have as many good moments here. She has some badass action heroine scenes, to be sure, but nothing that makes her performance anything but standard. Same with Theo James. I left the film feeling like their chemistry had worn off significantly. The key to romantic pairings like these in young adult films is to ramp up the heat each film, and Insurgent is a missed opportunity for the both of them. The rest of the supporting cast is similarly average. Kate Winslet is solid like always, Miles Teller is the film’s only comedic grace, Ansel Elgort is boring as all get out. Talented performers all of them, they just don’t have much to work with.

This makes me worry for Allegiant, which is ridiculously being split into two parts. The Divergent franchise needs to get back on track, fix the structural messes, ramp up the chemistry, and just make things more interesting. Insurgent is one more plot hole away from being a disaster, but right now it’s simply watchable. It’s pretty short, some cool visuals keep things interesting, and I guess I could say I was intrigued all the way through. But this movie could have been a hell of a lot more.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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