The Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 2

Director: Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence takes arms against the world for the fourth time as in this concluding chapter of the dystopian sci-fi series.

As freedom loving fighter Katniss Everdeen, Hollywood’s highest paid actress offers a typically excellent performance of weary intensity.

She is given far less opportunity to display her fighting skills in this sombre episode.

It’s handsome, well acted and thoughtful, yet the dialogue is often uninspiring and it’s a long march to the action.

By adding scenes with human shields and a trail of refugees the script plunders contemporary concerns but doesn’t offer comment.

Initially we’re forced to put in a few hard yards ourselves as we’re re-introduced to the motivations of the characters and it’s almost a relief when war starts whittling away their numbers.

As her comrades die in the cause of freedom, Katniss longs to fight.

But Julianne Moore’s scheming rebel commander Coin considers Katniss a useful propaganda tool and refuses to let her.

When the unified rebel army marches on the Capitol, Katniss is embedded in a media platoon which contains both points of her love triangle.

But there isn’t much tension between hunky warrior Liam Hemsworth Gale and Josh Hutcherson‘s brainwashed former turncoat Peeta.

Both are fairly dull characters but with Sam Claflin’s maverick warrior Finnick married off, she hasn’t much to choose from.

When her squad commander is killed, Katniss takes charge and leads her team on a suicide mission.

Her target is to assassinate Donald Sutherland’s evil despot President Snow who is holed up in an opulent and heavily guarded mansion.

As Katniss navigates the rubble strewn streets, she’s lumbered with a device which suspiciously resembles a game console.

It’s designed to detect Snow’s extraordinarily elaborate booby-traps.

The troops combat floods, flame, friendly fire and ferocious underground ghouls.

Friends and family are killed or captured as they trek through the terrain of the fallen city and Katniss has a suicide pill should her plan fail.

Though the foreboding tone is sensibly free of laughs, the regular supporting cast bring smiles of recognition.

Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci don their fabulous costumes one last time and a shambling Woody Harrelson adds some welcome warmth.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman has a surprisingly large amount of screen time in a final hurrah for his great talent.

Four years ago Lawrence was a little known actress.

Now due in no small part to The Hunger Games’ billion dollar success, she’s firmly and deservedly part of the A list.

By tackling the themes of war, freedom, suffering and sacrifice in a measured and occasionally spectacular fashion, this franchise has raised the bar for the Young Adult genre.

But as solid and satisfying as the Hunger Games are, I’ve had my fill and I couldn’t stomach another one.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Director: Francis Lawrence (2014)

She’s scared and angry but Jennifer Lawrence fights on as reluctant warrior Katniss in this third, darker episode of the spectacular sci-fi series.

Mockingjay resumes the story with rebels led by President Coin (Julianne Moore) regrouped in a huge hidden bunker in the desolate District 13.

The Hunger Games arena, where children fought to the death, has been destroyed and a popular uprising was crushed by soldiers from the Capitol.

Coin, whose silver hair and two-faced nature mirror despotic leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants Katniss to be the Mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion to inspire the repressed districts to rise against the Capitol.

Despite her fears, Katniss agrees. But only if her traitorous best friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is rescued and given a pardon.

As bombs and bodies start to fall, she and self-pitying soldier Gale (Liam Hemsworth) get closer and he volunteers to lead a daring mission.

Katniss is an expert archer and inspirational Games survivor yet, disappointingly, she barely fights because people are so protective. In the movie’s best sequence she is attacked when visiting a hospital.

There are speeches at the expense of action, the pace is thoughtful not thrilling and the story suffers as it is a bridge to the fourth and final film.

But the rebel base and splendid Capitol look excellent and Lawrence is so good that she makes ordinary actors like Hemsworth seem poor – and fabulous actors such as Sutherland and Moore look ordinary.

☆☆

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Director: Francis Lawrence (2013)

Jennifer Lawrence once again suffers the slings, swords and arrows of outrageous fortune in this excellent sequel to 2011’s sci-fi blockbuster.

This is a handsome, exciting and intelligent adventure that throws in plenty of humour among the thrilling combat scenes.

Lawrence is as brilliant as ever as the heroine Katniss Everdeen and carries this huge movie on her slender frame. She’s skilled, brave and loyal yet also unsure and vulnerable. It’s another terrific performance from an actress who’s yet to deliver a poor one.

Having survived gladitorial combat in the first movie, expert archer Katniss (Lawrence) is back living in borderline poverty with her sister Prim (Willow Shields).

She’s enjoying the company of the handsome Gale (Liam Hemsworth) while lovestruck fellow survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) sulks.

As masked soldiers are cracking down on the skulls of the starving population, ruthless  President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are having great fun plotting the demise of a growing rebellion.

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket dress with camp flamboyance as vain and vacuous media darlings who provide much needed background info and no little levity.

Even though Katniss and Peeta are forced into a media friendly sham marriage to protect their families, they still find themselves back in the combat arena.

The set design is epic, the soundtrack is haunting and the story rattles along like the express train that shuttles Katniss to the Capitol to do battle.

This time they’re fighting former champions – each one a fully trained killer – and doing it  on a tropical island filled with angry baboons, poison fog and rains of blood.

Although it ends strongly it is also anti-climactic being the middle film of a trilogy, sorry, tetralogy.

Plus it takes its time getting to the Games themselves and Peeta is such a dull person you wonder why such efforts are made to protect him. But what he lacks in charisma, Lawrence is always there to more than compensate.