For three years and four films, "The Hunger Games" series has been the gold standard of the dystopian YA genre that it helped popularize. Now the series comes to a satisfying conclusion with "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2," even if it never quite lives up to those previous installments.
Following the path set by fantasy franchises before it, the story's final chapter has been split in two features -- "Part 1" arrived last November and provided the setup to the endgame of "Part 2." More than the other entries in the series, "Part 2" resembles a straight-up war movie as Katniss leads Panem's rebel forces into battle against the dastardly President Snow (Donald Sutherland), demonstrating a willingness to go to some extremely dark places, and the movie's tone is often relentlessly bleak.
After the talky buildup of "Part 1" (which I quite liked), it seemed reasonable to expect this film to jump right into the excitement, so it's surprising to note how little action the film actually contains. The entire first half of this movie continues in the same vein as the previous film; it's nearly an hour in before we get to the first action sequence, and even then the film takes several significant pauses before things start back up again.
But the action scenes that we do get are excitingly staged by returning director Francis Lawrence, the best being an "Aliens"-esque chase through the Capitol's sewers as Katniss and her unit attempt to outrun a horde of reptilian mutants.
Jennifer Lawrence is still fantastic; Katniss is the role that made the actress a star, and it fits her like a glove. While the story's political intrigue continues to deliver darkly potent satire, the love triangle between Katniss and her would-be suitors -- poor brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and stoic soldier boy, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) -- is still by far the least interesting aspect of the films. So while the need to devote time to it as the story winds down is understandable, those scenes frequently end up deflating the considerable tension built up throughout the rest of the movie.
In wrapping things up, the film offers up more endings than "Return of the King," before settling on what was by far my least favorite of the bunch. Still, there's considerable emotion to be found as we bid these characters farewell. Adding considerable weight to the proceedings is the sad knowledge that we're witnessing the final performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman's career. Even if "Mockingjay - Part 2" doesn't live up to its predecessors, it's been nice to have a woman-centric action franchise with real ideas behind it, and as such, I suspect the series' reputation will only improve with age.