Monday, November 23, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 ★★1/2

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    We're fickle, stupid beings with a great gift for self-destruction. — dialogue in "Mockingjay-Part 2"

    And this is about the extent of the profundity found in this year's concluding chapter to the "Hunger Games" saga. I must admit, with a buildup comparable to that of the Super Bowl (considering the film's star-studded ensemble cast and advertising onslaught), I'm a little disappointed in this franchise's unwillingness to provide audiences with something other than a feeble script, an uninvolving romance, and what appears to be an example of absent-minded direction. (I'm afraid that prolonging the source material also adds to this feeling of despondency, but that is today's Hollywood, folks.) Although diehard fans of the series may revel at the sight of this grand finale, this "Hunger Games" installment is nothing short of subpar.

    Positives: The plot, albeit ho-hum, continues to be the driving force of the franchise, not because it emits a sense of novelty, mind you, but because it remains as one of the few coherent aspects of the production. In fact, one could say that this simplistic storyline produces just about as much pizzazz as any lone performance. (Democracy is pitted against totalitarianism, and this not only gives us an allegory worthy of discussion, but it basically becomes the only sapient element of a script that seems to have a proclivity for triteness.)

    Additional strong points include the picture's gloomy ambiance and a veteran cast that relentlessly upstages their youthful compeers. (Low-key lighting is issued in virtually every on-screen moment; a color palette consisting of blacks and grays plays up a mise en scène that is built to exude this dreariness-induced air.) As for our seasoned actors: Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore do what they can with limited screen time and with dialogue that is, dare I say, downright dull, and with all due respect, they give the film a certain humanness that could never be attained by the other, less experienced cast members. (Sutherland and Hoffman excel in this department, and their presence alone helps the movie stave off total embarrassment.)                  

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    Negatives: Then there's Jennifer Lawrence, Hollywood's latest darling and an actress who is as talented as she is prepossessing. Is she as radiant and sincere as a younger Meryl Streep? Not a chance. Is she as memorable and fetching as a 1990's Julia Roberts? I don't believe so. Is she as complex and poised as the late, great Vivien Leigh? Not even close. (Although these comparisons mean little here, they are warranted if we are to judge Lawrence adequately. After all, the aforementioned actresses were Hollywood sweethearts sometime ago; how else are we supposed to define talent?)      

    Sure, Lawrence is unmatched when it comes to her aptitude for facial acting (she gives new meaning to the art of physiognomy), and she clearly knows how to command the camera's attentionand yet, she can never become what we need her to be: a force of conviction. Lawrence's execution in this particular installment is purely a continuance of past performances, and, well, that's exactly the problem. (Every spoken line of dialogue is polluted by this melodramatic delivery, and it is this miscalculation that hampers what would otherwise be considered a passable performance.) Nevertheless, our leading actress is not the worst thing about this movie.

     Remember the absent-minded direction? (If only that were a hyperbolic inquiry.) Francis Lawrence, a director of minimal value, has injected this franchise with every ounce of his style (he certainly likes to employ the indirect/subjective point of view, and he plainly has an affection for the mobile camera), but where's the sense of spirit? You know, that underlying feeling of passion or enthusiasm. Not only is this film entirely devoid of such attributions, but it simply comes off as another garden-variety piece with enough pointless drivel to drive any sane, rational human being into a melancholic state.

    Likewise, the digital camera cannot provide what this picture direly needs (that being a rustic look), and its infatuation for our leading star takes away from the overall meaningfulness of the story. (In short, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) seems to be the only persona with any kind of pull; the film can be characterized as an incessant monologue with sporadic action sequences.) Even the editing lacks personality.

    The "Hunger Games" series will be remembered for its strong female lead and inspirational outlook, yet I cannot begin to understand its appeal. (Perhaps I'm not supposed to.) I mean, beyond a fruitful story, which ultimately requires a Marxist criticism mindset, I can't pinpoint even an inkling of intellectual acuity. What does this collection of pictures say about love? About the human condition (apart from the snippet that opened this review)? The answer is relatively little, unless, of course, one considers frail and idle dialogue to be an example of cultural or intellectual refinement. I guess we can wait for the unpreventable reboot to see if it's any better. 

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