On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful we’re free from our long national nightmare. With the release of the final Hunger Games movie, no longer are we shackled to the threat of future films based on pre-teen page turners about sullen heroines with commitment issues. But deliverance comes only from struggle. I saw The Hunger Games – The Mockingjay Part 2 last Sunday, and it was indeed a struggle. This turgid, colorless exercise in Hollywood greed and contempt robbed me of a weekend afternoon, this fetid effluence of cinematic offal smeared on countless movie screens, crammed down our throats like overfed, numbed cattle awaiting their turn in the chute. Then again, the popcorn and Milk Duds weren’t half bad!
I blame my daughter. A few years ago she rebuffed me when I tried borrowing her copy of the third and final Hunger Games novel. “Dads shouldn’t read books 6th grade girls are reading,” she said, even though I’d devoured the first two of Suzanne Collins’ books about Katniss Everdeen and her exploits in a dystopian America where TV reigns and the passive, ruthless President plots and schemes (think Ben Carson but less energy). As I sat alone in the first hour of the fourth film of the three books, I blamed my daughter for denying me the chance to learn in advance this story is tired, drawn-out and exhausting.
The best line of the afternoon came during the previews when a character asked rhetorically, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most powerful of them all?” and a guy in the back row yelled, “I am!” It made no sense but had more spontaneity than the ensuing two hours did.
The Mockingjay Part 2 was released to massive hype last week, our last chance to see Jennifer Lawrence in the role that launched her career. The film picks up where Mockingjay 1 ended. Wounded and on the mend, Katniss itches to get back in the rebels’ fight against the government. She’s surrounded by glum cohorts who say serious things like, “I guess there are no rules anymore about what a person can do to another person,” and, “Our future starts tomorrow at dawn,” while plotting the final assault on the Capitol, the seat of power for the brutal, regal President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland. Katniss must kill the President to end the rebellion and eliminate the chance of any future Hunger Games – these annual televised contests where unlucky citizens fight to the death until one victor emerges, a show staged by the government to ensure its downtrodden citizenry remembers who’s in charge. “He needs to see my eyes when I kill him,” she mutters to one of her two boyfriends as she readies herself for battle. Neither seems like a very good listener.
What the rebels lack in prospects and upbeat outerwear, they make up in personal grooming habits - who knew revolution could be so good for eyebrows and teeth? As Katniss and both boyfriends join a squad of soldiers, including a PR team filming their every move, we’re treated to scenes of rubble, holographic maps, refugee squalor and exchanges like, “You don’t owe me anything,” and “All those deaths mean something.” Jennifer Lawrence barely registers a pulse, whether it’s choosing between rebel hunks or enduring her new boss’s treachery. She spends most of her time offering a look that whispers, “This franchise seemed like a good idea at the time, before I met Bradley Cooper and Bobby De Niro. I just need to get through this.” I feel the same way, Jennifer, I feel the same way.
The film reaches a heartbeat in the final thirty minutes as the plucky pals dodge a sludge flood to battle an underground horde of zany zombies in what looks like the Somerville, MA Red Line train station. But just as I think the film may redeem itself, it settles into a pace slower than the action sequences in My Dinner with Andre.
The end comes mercifully, but not after a lot of violence, murder, remorse and baby-making. Near the climax, the new president, played by Julianne Moore, says, “A thirst for blood is difficult to satisfy,” as Woody Harrelson’s character grimaces like a man with gastric distress. I couldn’t tell if he was acting or needed a few Beano capsules. No one on screen ever looked all that comfortable, and when Katniss finally does break down and shows some emotion, I’m shocked she’s such an ugly crier – all snot and sloppy tears and lack of facial muscle control. Let it out, Katniss – you’re free from The Hunger Games for good, which should make all film lovers smile ear to ear.
(The Hunger Games – The Mockingjay Part 2 is both a violent film filled with mayhem and destruction and a boring, dialogue-driven commentary on surveillance, media intrusion and governmental control. Suitable for anyone who read the books or who’s old enough for caffeine- you’re gonna need it. In wide release everywhere).
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