So here we are at last, as The Hunger Games trilogy closes off with it's fourth movie. Yes, yet again the final adaptation on a series of films has been cut in half, alledgelly because there is just so much story, but really because they want everyone to pay twice. I reviewed the first half a while back, and pretty much liked it, with the caveat that I'd need to see Mockingjay Part 2 to really form a proper verdict. This weekend I got to see it, and indeed form a verdict, and that verdict, sadly, is pretty much "meh".
To sum up the story so far - The Hunger Games was a pretty great movie with grit, focus, some great performances and a pleasingly thoughtul tone. Along the way it spawned dozens of imitators intent of creating their own movie franchises, and ensured that every female hero in popular culture would learn how to use a Bow and Arrow. Catching Fire was a solid sequel that managed to both deal with the emotional damage of the first film and setup a widening of the world, and I like that do, despite being my least favorite of the books. And then they split Mockingjay in two, making a first half as a fairly slow paced - yet still throughful - story about the value of propoganda in war, and forcing Katniss to take control of her own destiny. So yeah, onto the big finish then?
Structurally this sort of makes sense. In the book, the final run in through the Capital essentially another Hunger Games Arena, as Katniss and her band of rebel fighters push through against the odds. It's also the framework for Katniss final decision to live rather than simply endure, something that sort of gets lost in the movie. The film also has to work through the nature of Presidents Coin and Snow, give some big death scenes to recurring players and then deposit Katniss off on the shores of her new life. And yeah, it sort of does that, but not in a hugely convincing way.
The problem is that the series as a whole has always been caught between being a dramatic actioner and a thoughful, introspective look at the consequences of violence. Being a smart blockbuster is hard - I always admire films that even attempt it - and if you get the balance off then neither pole works for you. There is too much going on, too many characters, to really get any depth, and the space to do that is taken up by action setpieces that leave the pacing spikey and uneven, and slightly unsatisfying, and whilst it's nowhere near as bad as the trail of pretty cutscenes that the Harry Potter films devolved into, it wanders pretty close to that at times.
The usual strengths help save it, of course. The cast is excellent - especially another good leading performance from Jennifer Lawrence. There is a final speech clearly written for Phillip Seymour Hoffman that falls flat on anothers performance (no-ones fault, of course, but it's such an obvious patch to cover his death) , that could well have given that last 10 minutes more of a kick. But even by then, Girl on Fire has sputtered out, not with a bang, but with a whimper. And thats a shame, because on the whole I've really enjoyed the ride.