I’m not a fan of the growing trend for artificially prolonging a franchise by splitting the last instalment into two parts. There are reasons why trilogies evolved as a dominant storytelling structure rather than tetralogies, even though tetralogy sounds a lot cooler. The “Harry Potter” franchise just about got away with it (thanks to the source booking being huge) but “The Hunger Games” third and final book adaptation doesn’t fare nearly so well.
Partly, this comes from the (necessary) abandonment of the story’s core concept: the games themselves and partly from the cast who seem numbed and detached, not be the horrors of war and poverty but by the banality and drudgery of a script with too little incident and too much time on its hands. Characters have in-world conversations about whether or not Katniss Everdeen is capable of being the Mockingjay and argue over which Katniss they have rescued. I’ll tell you which one you’ve got: the one from the first movie; the one who seemed disinterested and underwhelming, completely unconvincing as a figurehead for a revolutionary movement.
It’s not just Jennifer Lawrence’s fault either, as the rest of the cast seem subdued as well, with only Elizabeth Banks and John Hutcherson getting the opportunity to breathe real life into their characters. In fact it’s only once Banks’ Effie Trinket, shorn of all her finery, pops up that the film comes to life at all. Despite having rescued the franchise with the aggressive, kinetic and thrilling “Catching Fire”, director Francis Lawrence seems at a loss as to how to structure this tale now it’s been cut in two. There are far too many scenes of Katniss moping around, reluctant to embrace her destiny or even help the people who need her. The script, a surprising let-down from the usually excellent Danny Strong, mostly constrains Katniss to either tearful or angrily tearful.
The film also singularly fails to show why Katniss should be so eager to side with District 13’s President Coin. The previous films may have demonstrated just why President Snow should be overthrown but it’s hard to shake the impression that installing Coin in his place and allowing her to impose her totalitarian communist society across PanEm would be any better. The world built to support the Hunger Games story has always been a bit of a strain on credibility and devoid of the action-packed bread and circuses centrepiece, the cracks really start to show. District 13 is not a pleasant place to be, and it’s not clear that this is all out of necessity. We’re also told (repeatedly) that both leaders are master tacticians and strategists using the most cunning and subtle of ploys yet every move Snow makes is telegraphed in advance by an almost Batman villain-like need to monologue and give little clues to his plots. Easily foreseeable events take even the most battle-hardened soldiers and leaders by surprise while the only tactic Coin seems to favour, regardless of the military objective, is to throw wave after wave of cannon fodder at the enemy until they run out of ammo. In itself, that may be the bravest and most interesting thing this film does as it tries hard to replace momentum with commentary on the futility and brutality of war.
When it rouses itself, it manages to be intense and spectacular but these set-pieces are so few and far between that they only serve to highlight the grimly humourless and threadbare nature of the script. There is still a chance the overall story will be redeemed by Part 2, which is less than a year away but with a disengaging lead-in like this, the odds are no longer in its favour.