The Hunger Games movies are unusual as far as series films go, if only by virtue of the fact that each new entry has been better than the last. That, of course, is really more opinion than fact, but it’s certainly how it looks from here — meaning that this final film is both a reasonably satisfying conclusion and the best of the lot. It does what it needs to do in tying the whole thing together. But, more importantly, it manages to finally make Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) at least somewhat likable. Now, none of this should be taken as a rave. The furthest I’ll go is that I enjoyed most of Mockingjay — Part 2, but I’m by no means sorry to see the series end. Granted, it has one stretch of pure action — starting with a shock-effect in the sewers beneath the Capital and lasting until our heroes reach a temporary safe space 10-15 minutes later — that is among the most sustained suspense sequences I’ve seen this year. Plus, there’s an occasional whiff of true madness — if only a whiff and mostly involving Donald Sutherland. But in a nearly two-and-a-half hour movie, that makes for a relatively small amount of screen time.
There’s really no point trying to detail the plot. It’s the final chapter in a series that has already established itself as being about attempting to overthrow a decadent society held together by keeping the have-nots in a constant state of division and fear by the haves. (The allegory is not exactly subtle.) As a result, you know that the final entry is going to center on that overthrow. The series has always worked on the assumption that you’ve seen the previous entry, and this is no different — it simply drops the viewer into the ongoing story. In other words, this is not the movie to start with if you haven’t seen the earlier entries.
You may have heard that the conclusion is surprisingly grim. That’s sort of true in the sense that theoretically well-liked characters don’t necessarily make it out of the movie alive. However, it’s at best grim-lite. After the film’s none-too-surprising big revelation, it flirts with being really dark in a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” manner, but quickly backs away with an even less-surprising twist. It all works OK, but don’t expect to be shattered by any of it. That’s not a complaint, since I’m not in the least sure that would be in its favor. As for the burning question of whether some of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s screen time is CGI-augmented, that’s hard to say, but there’s at least one series of close-ups early on that look like composites.
Is it perfect? No, not even on a sliding scale. It most certainly didn’t need to be this long. Despite the aforementioned suspenseful segment, much of the action is on a par with a video game where obstacles have to be overcome and traps are avoided. No matter how well done, there’s an inherent limitation to it as thrilling entertainment. But, on balance, it works well enough to achieve its aims. Plus, no matter how heavy-handed its allegory may be, it’s never a bad thing to see movies with something on their minds that are aimed at a younger audience. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.