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‘The Hunger Games’ goes out with a bang

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2’
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2’

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, the fourth and final installment in the big-screen treatment of novelist Suzanne Collins’ hugely popular young-adult series, makes good on the promise of the last film, which was all build-up and no release.

At once surprisingly dark and warmly celebratory, Part 2 balances its dystopian political themes and talk of power struggles with a couple of big-bang action set pieces that are absolute knockouts.

While Part 2 isn’t transcendent — those who haven’t cared about the books or the first three films certainly won’t be persuaded now — it is a more than satisfactory wrap-up for fans to what has been an uneven cinematic franchise. While it doesn’t scale the heights of Catching Fire, the second movie, it’s heads, shoulders and quiver above the first and the third.

At the end of Part 1, Hunger Games champ and archery ace Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) had become a symbol of revolution in the land of Panem and was working with resistance leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) to overthrow the despotic President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meanwhile, Katniss’ boyfriend and fellow Hunger Games victor, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is under the control of Snow’s henchmen. He has been mentally tortured and brainwashed into believing Katniss is his enemy.

As Part 2 begins, Katniss, Coin and other revolutionaries — including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), the other guy after Katniss’ heart — are getting ready to launch their offensive against The Capitol. But Katniss is torn, as an emotionally battered and recovering Peeta, now in the hands of Coin, still might be trying to kill her.

When Katniss and crew do enter The Capitol, they find themselves playing a game even more deadly than usual. Snow’s gamemakers, the ones who once designed the perilous Hunger Games that Capitol residents watched as entertainment, have booby-trapped the now largely abandoned city with killer obstacles. This is where Part 2 revels in its CGI glory.

Our heroes go underground to try to avoid the dangers, and here the film becomes dark, claustrophobic and suspenseful.

Once again, Lawrence keeps the story rooted in human emotions, not just special effects, even if the love triangle remains pallid and is the least intriguing element.

More interesting is the political subtext, where it’s possible that at least some of the revolutionaries may be no better than Snow and his ilk. What happens when and if the powerless become the powerful? How far is too far? Will Katniss continue to shoot her arrows for good?

Francis Lawrence, who directed the last two “Hunger Games” films, keeps things moving quickly, even though the film runs more than two hours. There are some awkward moments — the inclusion of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the renegade gamemaker Plutarch might take some viewers out of the story — but they are overwhelmed by the movie’s momentum.

Assuming this is the last time Katniss has to strike blows against the empire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 is a good way to retire.

Cary Darling: 817-390-7571, @carydar

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, thematic material)

Running time: 137 min.

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