The Hunger Games franchise comes to a dark and solemn conclusion with Mockingjay Part 2. I did not read the novel, so was genuinely surprised by the climax. The film is heavy on the melodrama and trudges through the first two acts. But it picks up speed and delivers an ending that packs a wallop. It is dialogue heavy, with a lot of emphasis placed on the burdensome romantic entanglement of the three leads. This was insufferable in the Twilight films, but is palatable here. It depends on your point of view. The growth of the characters as they fight the war is deep and meaningful. The teenage love affair appeals to certain audiences, who surely have their choice of hunky hero to win the heart of Katniss Everdeen. They won't be disappointed because there is a winner for the Mockingjay's affections.
Mockingjay Part 2 picks up directly from the first film. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is confined and slowly being deprogrammed. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has reached her limit of disgust with President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She tells President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that she will do anything to end the war and kill Snow. As the districts unite against the capitol for a final assault, Katniss becomes uneasy at the merciless approach of Gale (Liam Hemsworth). She begins to question the tactics and motivation of Coin. Her personal demons paling in comparison to the deadly traps that Snow's games-makers have placed throughout the capitol.
Blockbuster sagas usually have a go big philosophy for the last film. There's a lot going on in Mockingjay Part 2, but it's not centered on the action or special effects. In fact, the first half of the film is unexpectedly devoid of any money shot effects scenes. The film takes a hard look at the evolution of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. Katniss is hell bent on putting an arrow through Snow, but is deeply conflicted. She's horrified at what Peeta and Gale have become. Then deeply suspicious of what will happen if they actually succeed. Peeta struggles mightily to regain his sanity after being tortured. His unrequited love for Katniss was twisted to hate her. Gale's reaction to the war has turned him cold blooded. He doesn't see any gray areas in the fight. This is all heady stuff. The three primary characters have changed dramatically. Mockingjay Part 2, in addition to the fate of Panem, concentrates on their personal journeys.
Jennifer Lawrence is far and away the anchor of this film. Playing Katniss has turned her into the world's most famous actress. Mockingjay Part 2 hangs on her with almost every frame. Lawrence does an admirable job. The sappiness of the love triangle is dealt with as professionally as possible. Her inner turmoil regarding the politics of the war is also well done. Director Francis Lawrence knows he's got a star and puts the film on her shoulders. One of the issues I had with continuity was Katniss remarkable ability to heal from major injuries. In scene after scene she takes a gruesome beating, but is spry and slinging those arrows soon after. It makes little sense, especially when everything else in the film is so serious, but that's Hollywood for you.
Mockingjay Part 2 is the best film in the series since the original. It has a slow pace and a mountain of dialogue, but is richly dramatic. I'm not sure how closely it adheres to the novel. The diehard fans will have to quibble about any deviations. I assume they will be very happy with the somber ending. The production value is high, but no need to spend money on the IMAX or 3D here.