Sunday, March 20, 2016

Video review: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2"

Prepare to be shocked: I actually read all of the “Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins, most of them prior to their movie version coming out.

Prepare to be even more shocked -- shockeder? -- I actually enjoyed them.

So when I pile on these films, it’s not out of dismissive distaste for young adult fiction in general or this series in particular. It’s out of… well, not love exactly. But at least like, which is genuine if not overly exuberant.

The biggest problem with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2” is the “Part 2.”

This series, like other science fiction and fantasy genres (Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Twilight) takes the artistically craven idea of splitting up the last book into two different movies. It’s a transparent -- and successful -- attempt to wrangle twice the ticket sales from the same amount of story. Having come along already for two, three or more movies, fans are unlikely to bail. So it’s “print your own money” time.

This is the sort of decision made by accountants rather than storytellers.

While decently engaging, there simply isn’t enough narrative in Collins’ “Mockingjay” to justify nearly five hours’ worth of movie. The result is an overlong bore with surprisingly few action scenes or emotional thrills.

As the story opens, heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is leading a small team of rebels into the heart of the Capitol District to overthrow the nefarious President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who kept the outlying districts in line by making their youngsters fight in gladiator-style games lapped up by the jaded television viewing masses.

The city has been laden with high-tech traps -- mutants, fireballs, snares, etc. -- so they’re essentially traversing through another iteration of the Hunger Games.

Complicating things is the presence of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a fellow contestant from Katniss’ home district who was kidnapped and brainwashed by Snow. They faked a romance, and even a pregnancy, to earn the adulation of fans and become the first-ever couple to jointly win the Games. But now Peeta lives in a state of induced paranoia, and thinks Katniss is the cause of all his pain.

It’s hard to lead an assassination effort when a member of the team is trying to kill you, too.

Fold in the shifting schemes of the insurgent leader (Julianne Moore) and the mysterious machinations of the chief Gamemaker (the late and sorely missed Philip Seymour Hoffman), and you’ve got a confusing mishmash of loyalties and threats.

While “Mockingjay” the book built up to a serviceable crescendo in both plot and character development, the second half of the movie adaptation is surprisingly dull. Not enough action happens to keep us engaged, and the talkie scenes in between feel like labored filler.

Big budget, multi-part film franchises should continually raise the stakes and suck us ever further into the story. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2” limps to a drawn-out ending.

Whatever you want to say about the quality of these films, they’ve consistently been released on video with top-drawer bonus features. This time is no exception.

There is a full commentary track with director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson; an eight-part, feature-length documentary touching on virtually every aspect of the production, from special effects to casting; a photographic look at the behind-the-scenes journey; costume sketches; an exhibition from past fictional Panem Games, and more.

You can also buy “The Hunger Games Complete 4-Film Collection,” which includes 14 hours of bonus content from all the movies, including 139 featurettes and dozens of deleted scenes, many of them never seen before.



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