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‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’ goes out with a whimper

By Rich Bonaduce, Standard-Examiner Correspondent - | Nov 19, 2015
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Jennifer Lawrence stars as ‘Katniss Everdeen’ in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2.'

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Cressida (Natalie Dormer, left) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, right) in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2'

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Josh Hutcherson stars as ‘Peeta Mellark’ in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2.'

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Liam Hemsworth stars as ‘Gale Hawthorne’ in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2.'

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Jennifer Lawrence stars as ‘Katniss Everdeen’ in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2.'

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Jennifer Lawrence stars as ‘Katniss Everdeen’ in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2.'

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Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, left), Boggs (Mahershala Ali, center) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, right) in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2.'

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Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, front left), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin, back left), Messalla (Evan Ross, back right) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, front right) in 'THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2.'

Not being a 16-year-old girl, I haven't read any of the Hunger Games books, which is no big deal; I actively avoid reading the source material before its theatrical adaptation anyway. I'm not a literary critic, and going in clean allows me to experience the film on its own merits. But if I were to guess what these books were like based on their theatrical adaptations, I'd say much of the good stuff was front-loaded.

Consider that the first two Hunger Games films actually had Hunger Games in them. The third release was an uneventful money-grab, featuring Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) whine over Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and about being the Mockingjay. It was all set-up for Part 2, which knows on which side its bread is buttered, with its trailer prominently featuring the line "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games." Actor Sam Claflin who plays Finnick Odair actually tweeted as much, too. But even then, the Games in this movie only last for a small part of the second act.

And although it has plenty of opportunity at 137 minutes (Lawrence said the first cut was closer to three hours), even less time is spent with the supporting characters who enriched the first two films. Lenny Kravitz is obviously long gone, but the existing players are so underused you'll probably forget about them until they show up for a cameo in their own franchise. Being Philip Seymour Hoffman's final film (and please don't put that on his tombstone), his lack of screen time is understandable. But memorable characters such as Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) might as well not even be in the film, so relegated as they are to obligatory links. Feisty Johanna exists to basically showcase how Jena Malone would look snarling while bald. And with a wedding as foreshadowing, when Finnick marries in an early respite, you know he won't be around long because drama. The characters that are there, such as Julianne Moore's President Alma Coin, are either restrained or one note.

Finally and most importantly, although Prim (Willow Shields) is shown in the opening scene, she pretty much vanishes and reappears in the third act just in time to die. Her lack of presence may be why her final moments aren't quite the gut punch they should be, either to the audience or to Katniss.

And hey, that's right! Look, Stanley Tucci is in this film, too!


REVIEW

THE FILM: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

CRITIC RATING: **1/2 stars

STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Jeffrey , Stanley Tucci

BEHIND THE SCENES: Director Francis Lawrence stated that because some of the visual effects sequences in this film are so challenging, he and the editors began work on them before part 1 of the Mockingjay adaptation was even released.

PLAYING: Layton Hills 9, Syracuse 6, Megaplex 13, Cinemark Farmington, Layton Tinseltown, Newgate Tinseltown, Megaplex 14, Walker 8, North Ogden 6

MPAA RATING: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. 137 minutes.


That leaves us to spend most of our time with throwaway solders who'll die in the too-short actual Hunger Games section of this Hunger Games movie, as well as with good-looking buzz-kill Gale (Liam Hemsworth), nobody's favorite wuss Peeta, and pouty Katniss, stuck between her past with pitiful Peeta, a possible future with gloomy Gale, and presently being the moody Mockingjay, an overblown symbol of a revolution that doesn't need her much.

As in the book (so I'm told) Katniss is rendered unconscious in an explosion, and she wakes up to much of the fighting and certainly the victory having been accomplished without her. Director Francis Lawrence said this may be the most violent Hunger Games film of them all, but most of the action is obscured or happens off-screen. Hemsworth said that this film "never lets up" in its action, but he may be also too close to it to be truthful; much of the first and second acts consist of walking and talking, then stopping to rest from all that walking to talk some more, punctuated by brief moments of Time To Lose A Lesser-Known Character. Sadly, even some of these action sequences are difficult to follow due to the machine-gun editing pace, especially the underground attack by the heretofore-unknown Capitol Mutts. I'm told if you read the book, you'll understand better what they are. I'm telling you you shouldn't have to read a book to follow a movie if it's a good movie.

Finally, the third act culminates in a "Lord of the Rings" style multiple ending inspired by the final Harry Potter film, meant to show that all's well that ends well... but it may just elicit a collective shrug, instead. With a title like "The Hunger Games," you'd think the franchise would leave us hungry for more, or at least satiated. But I for one was ready to leave the table.

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