Things swing back into heavy action mode for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, a satisfying-and super dark-conclusion to the saga of Katniss Everdeen.
I think it would be fair to deduce that 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, no matter how mundane, sparkle. She is an actress that just slices through the screen and smacks your face with her every gaze and word.
This one 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 really bad place thanks to evildoer President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and he's as reliable as a friend who dropped some very bad acid. He's prone to spells where he wants to kill Katniss, which makes things all the more 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 the enemy and simply film videos to inspire the rebel troops, but we all know circumstances will call for her to raise the bow and arrow and be anything but Cupid-like.
Part 1 was a more laid back affair, while this chapter amps the action up, especially in the second half. There's an underground sequence where 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 really lets us know that Part 2 will easily be the darkest and nastiest in the whole franchise. It actually pushes the PG-13 rating to its very limit.
In addition to the 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, of course, is the last screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who didn't quite finish his role as Plutarch Heavensbee, but did enough for editors to put something convincing together. Plutarch actually takes his exit via a letter to Katniss in a surprisingly poignant move. Hoffman, even in his few scenes, commands the screen like no other. It's such a lousy thing 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 something deliciously villainous by the last film. Like Hoffman, Sutherland only has a few scenes, but they are powerful ones. Snow's last two encounters with Katniss are bone chilling.
Hutcherson does good work as twitchy Peeta, but Liam Hemsworth is bit humdrum as Gale Hawthorne, the other man after Katniss's affections. The Hawthorne character winds up being, more or less, useless and disposable by the final chapter. I question whether or not the character was at all necessary.
Jena Malone has a couple of good scenes as crotchety Johanna Mason, one of them with an impressive baldhead 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 for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can't keep a multi-billion dollar franchise down.
I ultimately wound up liking this 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.