Here’s really all you need to put things in perspective when it comes to how messed-up a decision it was to split Mockingjay into two films: if you combine them, the running time is only three minutes shorter than the extended cut of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The decision to split the films was always a pure money-grab, and it’s hard to say if Lionsgate will end up with more from two poorly-reviewed Mockingjays or the good movie that’s buried within the 260 minutes of bloat that makes up the combined mess. Simply put, the second part couldn’t fix the decision to split the movies in the first place, sapped the franchise of the rabid momentum it had and leaves another series with a flat ending.
Part Two picks up without any fanfare exactly where part one left off, and with most of the exposition stuffed into the deadly dull first part, the second half focuses mostly on the assault on the Capital by the unified rebel forces. There are some really nice action sequences, and I did feel that the series finally matched the brutality of Collins’ books without blunting the edge of it’s violence. What’s baffling to me is the handling of some of the series most tragic, and shocking deaths, on the page is done so hamhandedly in the film that you don’t even realize it happened until it’s expounded upon later. Francis Lawrence certainly is capable of brilliant direction (Casino Royale), but his handling of this series was subpar at best.
I was curious to see how the posthumous handling of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character was going to be handled, and it’s pretty easy to tell when he’s digitally inserted into a scene, but if you didn’t know the backstory it wouldn’t raise any flags. His part was reduced, and thankfully they didn’t try to do more than what was required to complete the film.
Jennifer Lawrence is incapable of giving a bad performance, she’s just never been given a lot to do in these films. I will say this film gives her the best scenes to work with that she’s had since Rue’s death in film one, and the rest of the ensemble is strong. I’m not a particular fan of Josh Hutcheson, but I thought he raised his game in the last film. If you haven’t read the books (um why?), I’m not going to delve into spoilers, save for one.
One of the things I admire about Mockingjay (the book) is the Tolkien-esque lack of a pat, happy ending. These are characters who have gone through hell and they don’t get to be normal people for the rest of their lives. Some things in life just break us. It doesn’t mean the cause wasn’t worth fighting for, but many of the fighters don’t get to enjoy the life their struggles bought. The coda in the book is very bleak and makes clear that Katniss and Peeta never do fully recover from their struggles, but the film gives a much sunnier, though hardly rousing ending to the saga. These were brilliant books that always suffered from an adaptation mindset that seemed geared to appease rather than faithfully transfer Suzanne Collins’ dark fantasy vision. The first two films were adequately successful, but Mockingjay was a doomed venture the minute they split the film and, though the second half is certainly more entertaining than the first, the end result is just disappointing.