I’m not usually a contrarian, but I think I might be watching the wrong Hunger Games. I thought Catching Fire was a huge step down from the exhilarating premise; it remains the highest-rated of the four to date. Critics of Mockingjay Part 1 complained of its heaviness; I found it to be spineless, Twighlight-esque fluff. And word on the street is that Part 2 is a huge disappointment, a slap in the face to diehard fans. I thought it was the only sequel that felt true to the first installment.
Which isn’t to say it’s a great movie. Like almost every Harry Potter film, it’s hard to watch a Hunger Games sequel without understanding the fan service that belies it. Character behaviors are frequently over-the-top and jarring, alluding to known motivations rather than actually convincing us of them. This means steely performances, piercing stares which are only meaningful insofar as they’re held way too long, flimsy romantic subplots which an original screenplay would have jettisoned, and monologues that feel plucked from a motivational Tumblr. The first largely avoided this trap, but that was before it became an action-figure-producing phenomenon. The longer the series exists, the more it’s going to re-enact an established story rather than tell its own. It is what it is. I can waste every review bemoaning it, or I can accept it and move on.
I respect Part 2 for the same reason I respect the HIMYM finale: it commits to its logical conclusion at the risk of alienating its target demo. For the first time since 2012, the series has shown that it isn’t afraid to confront actual darkness — not bad-guy-does-bad-things-while-we-“boo” darkness, but darkness bred by mob bloodlust, class warfare, unchecked vigilantism and good intentions misplaced. There are moments here that hit a serious nerve. (My favorite, a visceral shaky-cam crowd shot, felt more in line with Children of Men than a franchise blockbuster.) There are themes (the cycle of violence, the reciprocal nature of “enemy”) that resonate more deeply in the current political climate than anyone could have planned. Most importantly, there’s that exhilarating sense of unpredictability the first movie did so well. Collins proves she isn’t afraid to totally dismantle her series if it suits the plot, and even if spoon-fed lessons eventually dampen the impact, it’s hard not to admire her audacity.
Some things never change with YA franchises: it doesn’t trust the audience, the romance is lame, and the epilogue should be avoided at all costs. But overall I actually liked this one, and I’m heartened to see a series with such a broad fanbase tackle something bigger than “Gale vs Peeta.” Chris and I reviewed it at: