Review: J-Law hits her mark in 'Mockingjay - Part 2'

 21 Nov 2015 - 17:29

Review: J-Law hits her mark in 'Mockingjay - Part 2'
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2."

 

By Michael O'Sullivan

When all - or nearly all - is said and done, toward the end of the 2 1/4-hour final film in "The Hunger Games" saga, Woody Harrelson, as the cynical Haymitch Abernathy, turns to Jennifer Lawrence's arrow-slinging heroine Katniss Everdeen and voices what, at that point, is probably what everyone in the audience is thinking.

"Katniss," he wisecracks, "I'll say this for you: You don't disappoint."

As the dystopian epic's emotional, moral and physical heart, Lawrence once again delivers the best reason to stick with it. Closing out the franchise inspired by Suzanne Collins's literary trilogy, "Mockingjay - Part 2" picks up virtually where "Part 1" left off : with a close-up on Lawrence's battered face. Her expression, full of steely resolve, commands our attention in a way that the film that follows does only sporadically.

Last year's "Part 1" set up the story of Katniss as a revolutionary leader, fighting a repressive regime with a war of propaganda. Katniss - or the Mockingjay, as her followers have come to call her - became the face of a viral rebellion, appearing in slick videos meant to rally and inspire the troops. But that story (or half-story) was the equivalent of Katniss drawing back her bow, and it ended, as if in freeze-frame, with an arrow metaphorically poised to fly.

In "Part 2," the missile is, at long last, released, as Katniss doesn't just pose for the camera, but penetrates, with a squad of hand-picked rebel fighters and the documentary crew following them (Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson and Wes Chatham), deep into enemy territory. The film follows her attempt to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland), head of the government that keeps most of the citizens of Panem in chains.

Almost as aerodynamic as her arrow, in a form-fitting, all-black military ensemble that makes her look both formidable and foxy, Katniss spends most of this movie making her way slowly - and I do mean slowly - through the streets of Panem's capital toward Snow's heavily defended compound. Though deserted, the city has been booby-trapped by the same game designers who previously entertained the ruling elite, and us, with creative mayhem. Trip-wired machine guns, flamethrowers and a tsunami of black goo have been set up to explode, like landmines, throughout the city.

This makes for something of a cinematic slog. It's slow going as Katniss and company, which includes her rival boyfriends - Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), freshly de-programmed from Snow's mind-control lab (or is he?) - simply try to avoid getting killed.

From Left:: Pollux (Elden Henson), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Castor (Wes Chatham), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Boggs (Mahershala Ali) in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2."

The first half of the film feels overly cautious, never really picking up a pulse until our heroes are attacked in the sewers by a horde of slimy gray mutants called Mutts. It's great, exciting filmmaking, for something that is mostly CGI.

And yet still there is an hour to go before Katniss'sfinal projectile finds its mark.

Who winds up getting it in the end is supposed to be a twist. But even those who haven't read the books will see it coming from a long way off. The thwack of the arrowhead feels satisfying, as closure goes, but perfunctory.

Most of the pleasure of "Mockingjay - Part 2" comes from watching Lawrence, not the story around her. Her aim is true, even if the narrative arc of the movie traces a long, wobbly arc toward its eventual, and not exactly happy, resting place.

Two and a half stars. (136 minutes)

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.

The Washington Post