Even though the Hunger Games series feels a little tired at this point, it manages to end with a bang – which is a pleasant surprise given the lukewarm dramatics of Mockingjay Part 1. Part 2 is by no means flawless, but it is less uneven and more confidently paced than its ill-conceived first half, a pointless, ham-fisted sidetrip into a pseudo-satirical world of propaganda film-making that didn’t mesh with the rest of the series.
The plot still meanders a little, though: The movie picks up immediately after the previous entry, with a bruised and shocked Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, still fully engaged in the role that made her a megastar) reeling from nearly being choked-out by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The next 30 minutes involves breezing through much of the Rebellion’s campaign against the corrupt forces of President Snow (gleefully evil Donald Sutherland) before getting to the meat of the movie: an assault on the Capitol itself.
It’s an unofficial Hunger Game of sorts, a YA Dirty Dozen-meets-Saw mission that sends Katniss, love-triangle-third leg Gale (Liam Hemsworth, finally showing some acting chops), previous Games survivor Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), propaganda film-maker Cressida (Natalie Dormer), her camera crew, squad leader Jackson (an under-used Michelle Forbes), a few redshirts, and Peeta into a virtually abandoned city protected by death traps on every street.
They’re supposed to hang back behind the lines and get morale-boosting footage of Katniss to keep the troops motivated, but the teen Joan of Arc has her own agenda. Complicating matters further is Peeta’s presence on the team; he hasn’t fully recovered his senses and is a danger to everyone around him – as well as a possible indicator of treachery within the ranks of the Rebellion.
Needless to say Part 2 feels like it has a sense of direction that was lost after the first movie, and it’s enjoyably more action-heavy. The series’ trademark grimness is in full effect here, as foreshadowed events come to a head and more than a few established characters meet their respective horrific ends.
Having so many loose ends to tie up makes it a very busy movie, too, and with so much going on some characters get only a modicum of screen time: Stanley Tucci makes a couple of brief appearances as TV pundit Caesar Flickerman; Elizabeth Banks gets only a couple of scenes as freaky fashionista Effie Trinket, but steals every second; so, too, does an enjoyably mad Jena Malone; and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final turn onscreen is undercut by his untimely passing. Julianne Moore is intriguing as power-hungry rebel leader Alma Coin, but the character is too opaque.
Most importantly, Lawrence gets to fully engage the material and flex her acting muscle, a nice and much-needed change of pace after having to play a more passive Katniss in Part 1. Alas, it’s not a perfect end for one of the greatest heroines in pop culture, who would have been better served by a single two-plus hour epic finale.