Lawrence Toppman

The ‘Hunger Games’ saga dribbles away at last

From left, Josh Hutcherson, Evan Ross and Jennifer Lawrence in Lionsgate Films' “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.”
From left, Josh Hutcherson, Evan Ross and Jennifer Lawrence in Lionsgate Films' “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.” Lionsgate Films

And so, after more than nine hours of collective filmmaking, the elephantine “Hunger Games” series concludes by giving birth to ... a mouse.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” has the technical polish and competent acting of the four-film series, though less intensity. It contains no surprises and ends with an anticlimax I have heard is faithful to the book, though it doesn’t amount to much onscreen.

Ninety percent of the picture consists of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) leading an assault on the capital of Panem with the idea of assassinating President Snow (Donald Sutherland, more nastily twinkling than ever).

She’s accompanied by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who still battle for her affections, and a band of former Hunger Games winners working for rebel leader Coin (Julianne Moore). The attack team tries to avoid traps set around the city by Snow’s engineers, though their numbers dwindle as they approach their goal.

Writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong, who wrote “Mockingjay – Part 1,” continue their workmanlike storytelling. Yet even more than in the “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” or “Hobbit” film series, the final installment should have consisted of one film rather than two.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death looms large here. His Plutarch Heavensbee was clearly meant to be an integral part of the story but now gets only a few lines; when the rebels gather around a conference table, there’s an empty chair he ought to be filling.

At the same time, recurring characters Haymitch and Effie (Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks) have been relegated to extended cameos, while the charismatically insane Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) never gets a chance to cut loose.

If Part 1 of “Mockingjay” consisted mostly of large-scale battles, this one shrinks in size: A lot of it takes place underground, in contained spaces. That means that we have to care more about the individuals involved, not less. The romantic triangle, pushed into the background in Part 1, comes to the fore. Katniss’ internal struggles matter more than her ability to inspire the troops.

And that’s the problem. Francis Lawrence, who directed the second through fourth movies, fails in one crucial respect: He can’t make us care about the romantic narrative.

That’s also Hutcherson’s fault; his acting limitations are more exposed as a man whose mind has been warped by Snow’s drugs, and who can’t distinguish reality from fantasy. We ought to see a soul in torment, a fellow trying desperately not to go mad; his unchanging expression remains baffled and a little sad. Hemsworth puts out equally low wattage, but the movie relies on him less.

Even Lawrence looks tired. She gives of her best in a few emotional scenes but slogs through the rest, as if completing a homework assignment she didn’t want to do but had to finish to graduate from an obligatory class. I felt the same way.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore.

Director: Francis Lawrence.

Length: 137 minutes.

Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action and some thematic material).

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