The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Dividing Suzanne Collins’ final Hunger Games novel, Mockingjay, into two movies resulted in a slow, somewhat padded first half, but the second part of Mockingjay wraps up the entire four-movie series in a mostly satisfying (and sometimes satisfyingly unsatisfying) way. Part 2 features more action, but it retains the surprisingly cynical political commentary, subverting the typical sci-fi device of the heroic rebel forces defeating the evil, power-mad dictator.
Steely teenager Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) spent most of Part 1 as the propaganda tool of the rebellion looking to overthrow the tyrannical government of dystopian Panem, and as Part 2 begins she decides she’s had enough. Although she’s still determined to take out the maniacal President Snow (Donald Sutherland, gloriously nasty), she no longer trusts the equally slimy President Coin (Julianne Moore), who clearly has her own agenda as leader of the rebellion. Katniss’ two suitors, who started out as bland pretty boys, have been through their own trials: Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is attempting to recover from his brainwashing at the hands of the totalitarian government, while Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is now one of the rebellion’s top military leaders.
This all makes for a rather bleak story, even as Katniss rallies the rebel forces as they close in on Snow’s stronghold. But director Francis Lawrence throws in more creative action set pieces this time, including deadly obstacles that resemble the Hunger Games themselves. And while the movie is overlong at 136 minutes and spends what feels like an entire act on a protracted denouement, the extra time allows for a full consideration of the toll of war and the way that what looked like victory from afar can seem pretty hollow when experienced up close.
Lawrence, as ever, is excellent as Katniss, who’s been shaken by battle but retains her core dignity and determination. Many of the supporting characters only appear briefly (often just before dying), although Jena Malone makes the most of her screen time as embittered former Hunger Games champion Johanna Mason. There’s a sense of obligation as the movie checks off all the characters and plot elements from Collins’ novel, but for the most part the filmmakers succeed in doing her story justice.