All-out war rages across Panem as the free districts prepare their final assault against the Capital. A battered and shaken Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) goes looking for revenge on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) for the brainwashing of her friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who has just tried to kill her. Joining an assault team led by on-off boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss must overcome fiendish death-traps, subterranean mutants and the political machinations of District 13 leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) if she has any hope of ending the war or saving her family, to say nothing of emerging from this nightmare with her sanity intact.
And so the most idea-driven young adult fantasy film franchise comes to a close with its grimmest, most incendiary chapter. Picking up right where The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One (2014) left off, Part Two's searing images of carpet bombings, street battles, terror attacks and mass civilian casualties, including children, make for pertinent IF undeniably uncomfortable viewing in light of recent events. Harrowing yet thought-provoking the film branches further away from the teen adventure narrative of earlier episodes into the realm of the war movie. Here, in a fiendishly logical twist on the already cruel premise of the original Hunger Games, the Capital turns war into a grand television spectacle, amping up each twist and turn for the masses. Amidst the grandiose set-pieces sits a biting satire of media manipulation for political purposes. Perhaps the true overarching theme of the Hunger Games series, as conceived by source author Suzanne Collins, is to look beyond the surface, think for yourself and not simply follow the masses. Katniss Everdeen is a stand-in for the young people who today negotiate a similar minefield of mixed messages and political agendas on television and social media. For all its harrowing drama this is a story of survival and renewal albeit one that, to Collins' credit, does not gloss over the psychological toll taken on its heroine.
If Part Two remains an uneven narrative it is the inevitable result of the current trend for cleaving the concluding installments of serials into separate halves. Like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012), the giddy rush to pay off questions posed by the more contemplative first half results in a somewhat unbalanced film. As always the glue that holds everything together is a powerhouse performance from Jennifer Lawrence. All the horrors of this dystopian future register on her beautifully expressive face. Part two continues to show Katniss taking charge of her own image, moving away from a mere survivor, political pawn or media construct to become the hero people may not necessarily know they want but clearly need. Her newfound determination is also reflected in the resolution to the central love triangle. Despite the carping of some fans and critics it is resolved satisfyingly and, in a cruel irony, at the expense of the one thing Katniss held dear throughout the entire saga.
Elsewhere, if the abundance of new characters introduced in part one continue to leave less room for scene-stealers like Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), at the very least the late Philip Seymour Hoffman yet again reveals what a gifted actor he was even in his few moments of screen time. While it is somewhat disappointing we never get to see preening pompadour TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) get his much-deserved comeuppance, Donald Sutherland brings new dimensions to the monstrous President Snow. Francis Lawrence reworks familiar motifs from the series in increasingly inventive, not to say chilling ways. On a purely visceral level the sewer battle with the hideous H.R. Giger-esque mutants is especially powerful, maybe too unsettling for younger viewers. Yet even this tautly executed suspense set-piece pales by comparison with the impact of the many war atrocities. Not many fantasy film franchises could get away with such loaded imagery but unlike the fictional games staged by the Capital, from beginning to end the Hunger Games movies have been a class act.