There’s an anecdote Elijah Wood tells about how Jack Nicholson walked out of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King because he thought it had ended – and that there were too many endings. In some ways it feels like Mockingjay – Part 2 has taken a leaf out of LOTR’s playbook, either in terms of stretching something into two when it really should have remained as one, or by attempting to milk the ending of Part 2 for all it’s worth. Either way, I didn’t buy it.
That’s not to say the actors didn’t sell it. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss remains as watchable as ever (I’ve been a huge fan since Winter’s Bone days), it’s just, structurally, it didn’t grab me. Is this a case of sticking too slavishly to the books? (I can’t say as I haven’t read them.) Or is it a case – as is the way with a lot of Hollywood blockbusters – in that you have a great idea and characters, you set them up nicely then have no idea how to finish it in a satisfying way?
That’s the hard part. Endings.
Beginnings are easy, that’s like a honeymoon, an affair, or even a steamy fling. It’s all lusty and shiny and new and exciting. But once you’ve had a chance to live with these characters a bit and get to know them, do you then stick around? Do you care enough to want to stick around?
The other issue is, if you build up a big franchise with global appeal (as Hunger Games has done) you set yourself a huge benchmark. People expect big, dramatic, heartbreaking things. If you don’t give them that they feel short-changed. And it’s not overly critical to say Mockingjay – Part 2 does pinch on pennies in certain places when it comes to evoking our emotions.
Let’s take the general plot. Leader of the rebels President Coin (Julianne Moore) wants Katniss to hang back during the final battle with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to wheel her out for a victory lap and as you’d expect, she doesn’t follow orders. Her team – complete with Finnick (Sam Claflin), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – infiltrate Snow’s district in a sort of drawn out surgical strike. To hold them back Snow gets the gamemakers to set traps, turning the Capitol into its own Hunger Games.
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
Turning the Capitol into a booby-trapped minefield sounds great on paper. Plenty of ways for the characters to interact with the cityscape, perhaps with Snow taunting them on monitors and screens and finding ever more inventive ways for the rebels to wish him dead. Instead, what we get is a rather lethargic series of set pieces (with the exception of a sequence underground) where Katniss and the gang evade the traps and sleep quite a lot (honestly, count the number of naps they take, it kills the film’s pace).
Perhaps it’s the difficult (and uneccessary) second album syndrome kicking in? Here’s an idea, take all the best bits of Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 and put them into a tight final story and it probably would have had a lot of emotional impact and been a roller-coaster of a finish to the franchise. But here it feels more a case of characters fading away than burning out.
And when Coin finally does seize power from Snow, even the most wooden-headed viewer can tell what’s going to happen to her. Then, coming full circle, there’s the end. Seriously, how many times do you need to end a film? It probably should have finished on an emotionally harrowing note (let’s face it, the franchise has gotten more serious and po-faced as it’s gone on) but instead director Francis Lawrence opts for lashings of cheese come the finish. Which really wasn’t needed. And, if anything, further served to put me off.
So as a result, for me, if I take the franchise as a whole, it started well enough but petered out as it went on, which is a shame to have to say. And whilst I’m not saying one man could have saved it, I think it suffered a lot from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman – an actor who could do more with a wry smile and a nod than most of the rest of the cast put together.
There’s talk of the studio doing a prequel. I hope they don’t bother with the young cast and instead just focus of President Snow: The Early Years. His rise to power could be something. And who doesn’t love a bad guy with snowy white beard and a little chuckle? Perhaps he started life good and slowly became corrupted by the world around him? I’d watch that.