SANTA FE, N.M. — You’d have been hard-pressed to miss out on the ubiquitous “Hunger Games” series, whether in the form of Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular young adult books, or the smash hit blockbuster films adapted from the series.
The fourth and final installment, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” assumes familiarity with the world: a dystopian future in which a competitive kiddie killer reality show begets a revolution.
Therefore, it doesn’t put effort into recapping the events of the prior three films. Fortunately, it’s good enough to stand on its own, and will also satiate fans craving an appropriate ending to the nihilistic journey.
Having won her first bout of Hunger Games and destroyed another, our heroine with a bow and arrow, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), has become the face of the uprising in Panem as the Mockingjay.
There are no official Games this time around, just the rebellion that has devious President Snow (Donald Sutherland) on the run. Katniss vows to kill him, believing his assassination to be the only end to the war.
“Real or not real?” Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her partner in the Games, asks her again and again. He’s recovering from torture and brainwashing at the hands of Capitol thugs, and can’t discern his own memories from the false ones.
This question is the one Katniss has had to ask herself at every twist in these series, inside the carefully crafted Games arena and out.
Few franchises go smaller in their final installments, but wisely, “Mockingjay – Part 2,” directed by Francis Lawrence, takes the epic action down a notch, and zeroes in on what matters most. What’s really at stake? Family, trust, compassion, authenticity.
Freedom from a power that corrupts and exploits – this has always been what Katniss fights for.
The finale still has plenty of spectacle, but here, spectacle itself is on trial. This series is largely about using images to make meaning, and the ways in which those images can manipulate the heart and mind of a nation.
It’s tough stuff, cynical and accusatory of the media machine. “Mockingjay – Part 2” is a movie about making movies – specifically the “propos,”propaganda films that she must film in order to rally the rebellion troops.
Katniss is the star of the war, but she doesn’t fight the actual war. She and her crew brawl with tunnel-dwelling humanoid “mutts,” and run from a tidal wave of deadly black goo, but when it comes to Katniss’ war hero status – real or not real?
Much of the proceedings feel expected of a final installment, but sandwiched in the middle is a taut horror flick that tends closer to “Alien.”
This section, where Katniss and her propaganda team prowl the Capitol, stalking Snow, is lean, bold and near-perfect.
The final act, tasked with the shooting down of story beats like target practice, is the weakest in terms of development, but is a necessary evil.
Director Lawrence allows for a sense of quiet that’s unprecedented for a blockbuster of this scale. The big stuff remains (and the production design and effects are excellent) but frequently, the film is smaller, more focused, and Jennifer Lawrence gives her best performance of the series.
In the past, she was tasked with constant, high-register emoting, and here she shines in the smaller moments.
Lawrence imbues Katniss with an inner strength and wisdom that draws on her vulnerability and softness. This girl who was on fire extinguishes the flames, but never loses her light.