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'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay —Part 2' is so, so, so, so grim

The "Hunger Games" series closes out with "Mockingjay —Part 2," which turns a YA series into a thoughtful and timely look at the fog of war.

Hunger GamesHunger Games

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2’
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars:
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Mark this as the moment when all the kids were nuts for a relentlessly grim march through the fog of war. “Mockingjay — Part 2,” the closer of the “Hunger Games” movie quadrilogy, is bleak, tough, rough, powerfully humorless and maybe even important. There’s little YA soap left. Our heroes, most of all mascot of the rebellion Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), are tired, hollowed-out, ready to die. No one can be trusted, not even the noble revolutionaries. Even the happy ending tastes so grossly fake that it seems like author Suzanne Collins just threw in the towel and had mercy on her characters — the ones she let live, that is.

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The final episode begins with Katniss staring at her purple and blue neck, previously strangled by a deranged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The rest of the film will have spills and thrills, but it will also be about scars that don’t heal — the eternal presence of real, crippling trauma. Katniss can’t even trust her revolutionary overlords, and especially not leader Alma Coin, played by Julianne Moore, who wears a permanent, uncanny expression of both bland benevolence and deviance. Katniss believes killing Panem president/tyrant Snow (Donald Sutherland) will fix everything, but even that seems like a fantasy.

The middle of “Mockingjay 2” finds Katniss and freedom fighters traversing through a booby-trapped Capital City. That sounds like a tricked-out “Escape from New York,” except it’s never fun — not when they have to outrun some black goo, not as they spelunk through the sewers, not even when they’re besieged by a swarm of eyeless, Gigerian beasties. Characters both beloved and expendable perish, one by one, as do, eventually, children.

Of course, a chapter this despairing only exists because the franchise slowly worked its way there, starting from riot grrrl-empowerment origins. By film four, even the purple Ken Russell nuttiness has been sanded down to a few momentary Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) walk-ons.It also exists because junk cinema is treated like Ibsen now. For what it’s worth, Collins’ series deserves to be carefully considered. It’s very much a revolution saga for our era, when all seems lost, when all is questioned. It’s no surprise when certain lines — Snow telling his subjects that our heroes “are coming to destroy our way of life” — echo tragic events that happened just last weekend.

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For all its Katniss-bow action and Peeta-or-Gale? drama, the “Hunger Games”es have always, especially in these last two, been more in line with something like “The Battle of Algiers,” with huge bits of Jean Baudrillard seeping through in its portrayal of war as staged and even faked through the media. These aren’t just lofty citations; it feels these ideas down to the bone.

And so “Mockingjay 2,” like “Mockingjay 1,” isn’t much of a popcorn movie, even when it’s half-pretending to be one. But it earns its bleakness and its pessimism, and if it works at all it’s as a particularly steely form of melodrama. It’s not melodrama in the sense that it’s about Katniss’ final romantic choice, which winds up performed arbitrarily, as though through a coin toss. It’s been a study of one young woman’s predicament, and one keenly expressive actress’ face. Lawrence has brought a wounded humanity to Katniss, but she’s also someone whose face can fill a screen, doing very little but saying everything. Watching her, after some 10 hours of increasingly dour dystopia, has been more thrilling than any bit of ass-kicking.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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