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26 Nov 2015

A Satisfying Conclusion: The 'Hunger Games' Finale Offers a Lot of Action—and an Incredible Jennifer Lawrence Performance

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A scene from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2. A scene from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2.

Heavy action is back in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, a satisfying—albeit super-dark—conclusion to the saga of Katniss Everdeen.

This whole Hunger Games thing could’ve been a super-drag without the presence of one Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. There are moments in this film, and throughout the saga, that suffer a bit from subpar writing—yet Lawrence makes any dialogue sparkle, no matter how mundane it may be. She is an actress who slices through the screen and smacks your face with her every gaze and word.

This film picks up exactly where the last one left off, with Katniss getting her neck tended to after a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) tried to choke her out. Peeta is in a bad place thanks to evildoer President Snow (Donald Sutherland); he’s as unreliable as a friend who dropped some very bad acid. He’s prone to spells during which he wants to kill Katniss, which makes things difficult as she leads Peeta and a squad of rebels on a mission to wipe out Snow for good.

Peeta is on the mission despite his altered state thanks to rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who wants the squad to film him and Katniss for propaganda purposes. Katniss is instructed not to engage with the enemy and simply to film videos to inspire the rebel troops—but we all know circumstances will call for her to raise the bow and arrow.

Part 1 was a more laid-back affair, while this chapter amps up the action, especially in the second half. There’s an underground sequence during which Katniss and friends must battle mutants that look a little like the cave creatures from The Descent. It’s during this sequence that returning director Francis Lawrence lets us know that Part 2 will easily be the darkest and nastiest film in the franchise. It pushes the PG-13 rating to its very limit.

In addition to a surprisingly high body count, Part 2 hits hard with its “Don’t trust the government!” message. While we already knew President Snow was quite the scumbag, this film adds another surprising villain to the mix. (Yes, all of you readers of the book knew what was going to happen, but my ignorant, non-HG reading ass got taken by surprise when I saw which way things were going.)

This includes the last screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who didn’t quite finish his planned scenes as Plutarch Heavensbee, but did enough for editors to put something convincing together. Plutarch actually makes his exit via a letter to Katniss in a surprisingly poignant move. Hoffman, in his few scenes, commands the screen like no other. It’s lousy that he isn’t with us anymore.

The most improved Hunger Games franchise performance award goes to Sutherland, who took Snow from a preening goofball in the first chapter to someone deliciously villainous by the final film. Like Hoffman, Sutherland only has a few scenes, but they are powerful. Snow’s last two encounters with Katniss are bone-chilling.

Hutcherson does good work as a twitchy Peeta, while Liam Hemsworth is bit humdrum as Gale Hawthorne, the other man after Katniss’ affections. The Hawthorne character winds up being, more or less, useless and disposable by the final chapter. Jena Malone has a couple of good scenes as crotchety Johanna Mason; during one of them, she sports an impressive bald head courtesy of special effects. (She apparently used a stunt head.) Her character’s hair seems to grow back awfully fast, though.

So that’s it for now with The Hunger Games, although I’m sure somebody’s working hard to come up with a way to continue the franchise, just as they did with the Harry Potter universe and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can’t keep a multi-billion dollar franchise down.

I ultimately wound up liking The Hunger Games phenomenon after a crap start, but I am happy to see Lawrence totally free to do other things, like David O. Russell’s soon-to-be-released Joy. She’s only 25, and she’s just getting started.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in various formats.

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