Young adult franchises are now slowly beginning to wax and wane with audiences. Those who grew up with the series are now reaching a stage where simplistic storytelling and a lack of nuance or subtlety doesn't exactly thrill you in the same way. So, in a sense, there has to be something else to keep you in the seat. It's either intriguing filmmaking or star power that keeps the audiences coming back. Thankfully, the Hunger Games has locked this in with Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role of Katniss Everdeen.
Now using the tried and tested method of splitting the final chapter in two, Mockingjay Pt. II picks up directly after the first one with a wounded Katniss reeling from a very personal attack by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and struggling to get to grips with her new surroundings. The war between the Districts and the Capitol is now reaching its finale, with President Coin (Julieanne Moore) and her army surrounding President Snow (Donald Sutherland) for the final showdown. All while this is happening, Katniss is trying to figure out what Coin's plan is for after the war and whether or not she can be trusted. Following on from the media warfare motif of the previous film, Katniss is paired with former Hunger Games victors Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and a team of seasoned soldiers to form a 'star squad' that will shot footage of them on the frontline. However, Katniss has plans of her own that involve assassinating President Snow by herself.
Four films in, Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Katniss still has a certain sense of unease to it. We know that Katniss is a reluctant hero, but there's almost never a sense that she's hitting her stride. Instead, it's merely a case of surviving and it does become wearisome. Likewise, the relationship between Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta becomes even more strained now that Peeta is dealing with PTSD and trying to rein himself in. The supporting cast of Mahershala Ali, Michelle Forbes Natalie Dormer and Woody Harrelson all fill out their roles with relative ease whilst Donald Sutherland looks to be having a blast as the smiling tyrant.
Where the film falls down considerably is in the pacing. The understanding was that Mockingjay, Pt. I was setting Pt.II to be the action film. Where Pt. I had ponderous discussions about the nature of power, palace intrigue and subterfuge, Pt. II was supposed to be a blockbuster. It's an understood formula that's worked for Harry Potter and The Hobbit, so naturally, one would think it's the same here. Not so, unfortunately. Instead, we're given very well-constructed action setpieces that are spaced between morose conversations about death, power, control and the general malaise of their existence fighting an insurmountable enemy. There's no real sense of speed, excitement or alacrity to it all - it's a ten minute action sequence followed by twenty minutes of talking about the reprecussions that just happened. In a way, that's bold. Very few blockbusters actually examine the death and violence that goes on in their films, but when they do, it's paced far better than this. The stop-start motion means that there's no momentum towards the final act.
However, the action setpieces are very well constructed. An underwater tunnel sequence calls to mind James Cameron's Aliens - complete with motion-tracker beeping and everything. But that, of course, is followed by twenty-odd minutes of them trying to sneak their way to the Capitol. Likewise, when we finally reach the finale, what begins as one character being somewhat dubious ends with a complete about-face change that's very, very jarring. Any kind of subtlety goes right out the window because it feels like the story is trying to wrap itself up quickly and tie off the loose ends. It spends so long trying to make us think a certain individual is quite possibly not what they seem before they just throw it all out for the sake of convenience.
What makes Mockingjay, Pt. II so annoying to watch is that you know there's a decent film in there and it has the ability to be really thrilling. The performances all round are solid, the cinematography is beautiful, James Newton Howard's sweeping score fits the mould perfectly and the use of the media as a weapon is intriguing, but the hugely uneven pace of the story and its ham-fisted ending prevents it from being a great film and simply leaves at just good.