After surviving multiple rounds of teenage gladiatorial combat, inadvertently inciting an armed uprising, and becoming a media darling and symbol for revolt against a tyrannical dictatorship, Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, but you knew that) is tired of all the killing. But when the leader of the rebel forces (Julianne Moore) orders her to stay behind and help produce more propaganda for the revolution, she sneaks off to join a commando raid and exact her personal revenge on evil bad guy President Snow (Donald Sutherland). This series has gone out of its way to have its characters constantly articulate the psychic toll their battles have taken and their horror over the many lives lost, but ultimately the violence in these films is sanitized (emotionally and visually) and righteous.
Strangely the only honest thing in this movie is the heretofore mostly perfunctory romance.
For four movies now we’ve watched young kids beat and shoot and stab each other, get torn apart by monsters or suffocated by acid poison gas…all in bloodless PG-13 fashion, usually followed by a tearful Katniss explaining why we should all feel terrible about it. But it largely doesn’t matter that Mockingjay is vaguely hypocritical in its moral hand wringing, or that it traffics in the same visual schemes of soldiers in body armor with machine guns stalking each other through empty bombed out landscapes, the same iconography of war we like to reflexively recoil from in equally morally dubious movies like Lone Survivor. These contradictions might as well be expected from a big franchise machine like this. No, it’s a much worse offense that it’s so dull—a 300-page YA novel spread into 5 hours of screen time, drawing out its promised climax with endless moping about saving lives and moral duty and rescuing lovers in between momentary bursts of teen-friendly off-camera carnage that’s mostly a grey-brown digital smear, especially in an incoherent scene (cut to ribbons to protect our feelings from all its horror) involving sewer-dwelling, eyeless people-eaters called Mutts.
Strangely the only honest thing in this movie is the heretofore mostly perfunctory romance between Katniss and sort-of boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), finally resolved at the end not because they love each other but because of their mutual trauma and shared survivor’s guilt. Sure, she still killed the person she felt was responsible for all of her pain, and the armed struggle, the campaign of guerrilla terrorism and assassination upon which she tested her values, still leads out of totalitarianism into representational democracy, and she’s allowed to live happily ever after in a beautiful field of flowers with her lovely babies. Killing is bad until it isn’t, revenge is wrong unless it’s our heroine’s. It’s all justified as long as we acknowledge that it was awful and we didn’t like doing it.