As the fourth and final instalment of the superior Young Adult series opens, our heroine has literally lost her voice. If Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) should be way past breaking point, you can’t keep a stubborn gal down, and this one could bend steel with her determination.
In director Francis Lawrence’s third Hunger Games film on the trot, it’s time for the Mockingjay to leave the bunker and come out fighting following the weaponisation of her beloved Peeta (who was drugged, tortured and set murderously upon her in the previous film’s wrenching finale).
After being fashioned into the figurehead of Panem’s revolution, Katniss disregards orders from rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) to remain safely behind the scenes. Intending to assassinate President Snow (the great Donald Sutherland, pristine in his wickedness), she heads to the front line as the freedom fighters launch their attack.
In an attempt to lure them to their doom, the outskirts of the Capitol play host to a variety of threats – a minefield of hoped-for sticky endings – which nod to the grim, televised thrills of the Hunger Games themselves. To further complicate matters, thrown into the midst of Katniss’s non-combat unit like a human bomb is the deeply damaged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Meanwhile, his love rival Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continues to moon at Katniss with his cow eyes, but his brand of staunch heroism goes increasingly unnoticed.
There’s one hell of an imbalance as stiff, faceless suits surround Snow, while Katniss once again has the A-list on her side (including Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, while Philip Seymour Hoffman is a poignant presence in his final screen role), but all is not as it seems.
An excruciatingly tense and ultimately ferocious sewer sequence recalls Aliens in the best possible way. However, some of the film’s well-staged action has been edited into incoherency; it might lessen the impact of the violence for younger viewers but this also takes some of the sting out of death scenes, and other pivotal moments feel hastily unpacked in an attempt to cram in the remaining story.
Nevertheless, this may be Jennifer Lawrence’s finest hour in the franchise. She towers at the fore, resplendent in her complexity, courage and resilience. After the last instalment’s more tightly wound interpretation, the role opens up as Katniss goes from frazzled survivor and reluctant grunt to swaggering avenger and sobbing wreck; and, as the bodies fall, this terrific actress shows us the psychological toll of leading people to their death.
Lawrence is ably supported by the usual suspects, with Moore especially good as the steely, feline Coin, and – in a cast of formidable females that includes Gwendoline Christie, Natalie Dormer and Michelle Forbes – special mention should go to Jena Malone as the bald, bruised ex-Hunger Games victor Johanna, who spits barbed comments through gritted teeth and adds texture to the story without having any particular narrative importance.
This franchise-closer might not be perfect but it’s routinely stirring, occasionally gut-punching and has enough variety – in terms of downtime, evolution and excitement – to feel like more than just one long ending. The smart and sincere script refuses to allow us to unthinkingly enjoy the exhilarating action, offering us a protagonist not just capable of holding her own in a fist fight but who questions the morality of military tactics even in the heat of battle.
The result is a film of genuine integrity performed with compelling conviction. It’s an apposite finale to a series that has given us a heroine for our times – a cheeringly wilful woman who, right up until the very end, insists on doing it her way.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is released in cinemas on Thursday 19 November