The Girl on Fire Burns No Longer

It feels like just yesterday when I first watched the “Girl on Fire,” Katniss Everdeen, arrive on a black, fearsome chariot, expressionless and, well, in flames. For three years, Jennifer Lawrence maintained this image, but even the most beautiful of fires must be extinguished. Among the ashes is the last installment of The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part 2, marking the curtain call for the dystopian world known as Panem. And I have to be honest: a tiny part of me is going to miss it . . . slightly.

 For those of you who have forgotten, Mockingjay Part 1 ended with the rescue mission that the rebellion’s frontrunner, District 13, undergoes to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss’s fellow “Victor” from District 12, in the midst of the Capitol’s totalitarian oppression of Panem. To their surprise, the Capitol psychologically conditioned Peeta to hate all things Katniss Everdeen, so naturally he attempted to strangle her. Mockingjay Part 2 immediately follows Peeta’s inconvenient outrage straight into the undercover coup d’état to give the Capitol the haunting coup de grâce it so rightfully deserves, obeying District 13 President Coin’s orders. With a team composed of a broken Peeta, a stubborn Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and an even more broken and stubborn Katniss (and several minor characters), nothing can go wrong, right?

I’ll preface everything by saying that I read Suzanne Collins’ anticlimactic Mockingjay, but its scenes were difficult for me to envision. Maybe I read it too quickly to digest what was going on, or perhaps it was merely monotonous and predictable. Thankfully, as a visual form, Mockingjay Part 2 does a fantastic job of filling in the aesthetic gaps that the book leaves essentially void or incomplete, and that’s exactly what an adaptation should do. I surely didn’t imagine (spoiler alert!) Mitchell’s death to be as painful or grim as it is portrayed in the film, where he’s suspended midair among barbed wire and black slush—an image paired with (of course) poignant music. In fact, a majority of the film’s score has a sorrowful undertone; though this definitely works in the various uneventful scenes, it takes gusto away from the action-packed scenes toward the end.

Still, this adaptation falls short of its grandparent, Catching Fire. Director Francis Lawrence truly established himself with Catching Fire, his first film in the lavish franchise and the series’ second installment. The movie not only arguably has the most compelling plot line, but it is also visually stunning—where else would you see deadly fog chasing an old lady (RIP Mags) or an arrow pierce through lightning? Mockingjay Part 2, sadly, doesn’t have these interesting visual opportunities; the film is based on the uneventful moments that follow the climactic rescue of the Victors in Mockingjay Part 1. There’s not much left for creating an epic, immersive experience. That being said, the movie does well with what it has, and that’s all you can ask of it!

The film’s Achilles’ heel lies in some of the major characters’ deaths. I know, I know; you don’t want to see any of the characters die (except you, Gale). But in the midst of this high-scale rebellion, you can only expect as much. The deaths presented on screen are passive, glossed over by the attempt to make the film more intense and dramatic. It makes the characters seem unimportant and takes away from the peaks of this “final chapter.” Boggs and Jackson and Castor and the list goes on and on. All of their deaths feel rushed, even in the context of the film’s urgency. Deep down, my heart yearns to miss them, but I simply can’t. Their deaths, in the thick of the moments that follow, become forgettable.

The only deaths that make lasting impressions are Finnick’s and Prim’s. Hats off to Finnick’s death scene because the build-up to the underground battle with the lizard mutts (which are far uglier than I’d imagined) is spot-on. It gives the movie the clear sense of danger that the Capitol presents, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that felt like that was missing in Part 2’s dull predecessor. Prim’s death is memorable because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance after the fact. Her stellar acting, given the grim circumstances, resonates with the sense of loss—the profound emptiness—that results from her sister’s death. The series ends with exactly what Katniss tried to prevent in the beginning, and the melancholy that accompanies this irony is made tangible through Jennifer Lawrence’s blood, sweat, and tears. Kudos!

Ranging from visual highs to literary lows, Mockingjay Part 2 is solid enough. I have to commend the director for turning Suzanne Collins’ book into a high-budget series with great direction, CGI, and images. The movie builds a cinematic tent out of the twigs that Collins provides in the shallowest book of the series. I think we can all agree that the “Girl on Fire” remains in better protection under the tent than among the twigs.

Grade: B-

I guess you could catch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 in theaters while you still can, or you can wait for it to come out on Netflix. Just remember: Jennifer Lawrence today. Jennifer Lawrence tomorrow. Jennifer Lawrence forever.