Movie review: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II”

OK, so “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II”. If you can hear me teeing up on the basis of that ludicrous title alone, then you know me well. If you have protective feelings about the books, you may want to seek minimum safe distance now, because it’s about to get ugly.

I have a minimal standard for movies, and it’s this: if a film cannot distract me from my aggravation over having gotten a speeding ticket on the way to the theater, the movie has failed in its purpose. (If you’re a careful driver, you can swap out the speeding ticket for any sufficiently irritating condition: a headache, an uncomfortable seat, an annoying moviegoer.) This movie not only failed the test as a film, but if boiled down to its essence, might not pass the test as a commercial. I’m told millions were spent making this movie, but I submit to you that millions were spent promoting this movie, which is different. If millions were spent on those drab and featureless sets, those uninspired and plastic-y looking costumes, and those intensely artificial, computer-glossy CGI terrors, then perhaps someone should have lit them with more than a guttering glowstick, because we can’t see any of it. During the approximately sixteen hours spent in underground tunnels, I had to guess which character had died in each battle by who was sobbing afterwards—mid-melee, it was impossible to distinguish one leading actor from another, which, given that one of the leading actors is Jennifer Lawrence and another is a lesser Hemsworth, should not be a point of confusion.

Aboveground, the news isn’t any better. In a deeply dubious CGI landscape of copy-pasted buildings, as repetitive as the cactus-mountain-cactus background of a Wile E. Coyote film, the last surviving rebels infiltrate the Capitol, where, we are repetitively told, the sadistic gamemakers have laid thousands of elaborate deathtraps in “pods” throughout the city, creating the ultimate Hunger Games—an urban maze of mines. Finally, we’re getting somewhere—the Hunger Games series was always at its best when it was exploiting the tension between the reader/viewer’s desire to see Katniss and her friends survive the Games, and the uneasy knowledge that this desire makes them (the reader/viewer) little better than the hordes of shallow and bloodthirsty aristocrats for whose entertainment the Games were designed. This movie seeks an escape hatch from the uneasy double-bind—unfortunately for us, the escape hatch it chooses is, “Promise the Games, then make them unutterably dull.” In what felt like three hours of wasteland wandering, I counted not thousands of boobytraps, but three. One which shoots fire, one which shoots bullets, and one which releases a menacing “oil” of surprising physical properties—it alternately rushes forward like an avalanche, stops short of a main character’s boot, speeds forward again to engulf a tertiary character whole and screaming, then laps gently at another main character’s boot. Interesting oil. I wonder if we could use it to clear up some of the draggier bits of Game of Thrones.

To fill in the spaces and stretch this movie into two parts (because every trilogy must now be a quadrilogy), characters are given portentous monologues, somber orchestral send-offs, and endless amounts of time to sit in poorly-lit foxholes emoting at each other over banalities. One such stultifying conversation between Jennifer Lawrence and her love interest, a charmless Josh Hutcherson, centers on favorite colors. His is “orange. Not bright orange, but soft, like the sunset.” I’ve always been told that the boredom of war is one of its most insidious unpleasantries, but had never really grasped why until that conversation. When Donald Sutherland, as a gloating old-school villain, pops up on every screen in the country to twirl his mustache and gloat over Katniss’s supposed death, I can’t have been the only audience member who was relieved that someone, somewhere, far away from this deathless movie, was having fun.

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