By now, the economic practicality behind the film adaptation “two-fer”—making two films out of a single book of source material—seems both obvious and inescapable. Overall shooting costs are lowered, release schedules become yearly instead of “every two-to-three years,” and a whole host of variables (actors’ age and availability not least among them) become less disruptive. Arguments can be made for it serving a legitimate storytelling purpose, as well—at 759 pages, Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was both a beast of a book and the culmination of a series more loaded than most with a complex mythology and robust cast of characters, all of which would demand some narrative attention in the film if audience needs for closure were to be met. But beyond all, the math just can’t be denied: the budget for the two films derived from Deathly Hallows was around $250 million, roughly the same as the budget for the single film resulting from the previous book. At $934 million worldwide, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was no slouch at the box office, but the same budget yielded more than $2 billion for the Deathly Hallows films. That’s some pretty tasty ROI. (Now, making three films from a much smaller, single book—“pulling a Hobbit”—that can take its toll on source material and audience enjoyment even as it lines studio coffers.)
All that’s to say—like most of the audience, I walked into The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 untroubled by the two-fer trend. Yes, the first Mockingjay film was a bit slow, even as it played up the political intrigue of the “arena-less” book of the series. And yes, unlike Deathly Hallows, there’s not really a compelling reason beyond studio economics for the two-from-one approach. But it was also a given that the finale, being generally faithful to the books as the entire series has been, would have more action than its predecessor. (It does.) And there’s the cast, anchored by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and counting some heavy hitters among the supporting cast. (There’s a fair number of Academy Awards and nominations among them, after all.) More than is usually the case, I went in knowing what to expect.
And depending on the perspective, that’s what is both a weakness and a strength with the movie. As far as structure, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 has pretty much the same flaws as its source material. Freed from the confines of the literal arena from the first two books/movies, the overarching sequence of events seems ragged by comparison, even with the “march through a minefield of traps and to the capitol” providing a similar flavor to the threats faced by the characters. Maybe that’s just an illusion—the result of having one restrictive narrative framework, in place for two-thirds of a trilogy, suddenly removed. Without the arena, the role of Katniss is as crucial as ever, but the question of whether Lawrence is up to the task was resolved long ago. (Remember when A-list actors were hard to get for fantasy/sci-fi roles? Thank goodness that particular bit of casting snobbery is past.)
It may just not matter. For the 4th and concluding film installment of a beloved series, who exactly in the audience hasn’t come knowing what to expect? For whom is the fourth film the first one seen? Critically speaking, the only relevant questions would seem to be whether the film suddenly veers from the path that was laid out (and has thus far yielded a billion+ in box office) at the beginning. Mockingjay – Part 2 does not. Do any of the actors show a shocking decline in acting chops? Nope. Will fans hunger for more? Yep.
Let the prequel games begin.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay); Suzanne Collins (adaptation)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone
Release Date: November 20, 2015