The dystopian franchise that launched Jennifer Lawrence to superstardom ends with the ‘mathematical opposite of suspense’, writes critic Owen Gleiberman.

At a new Hunger Games film, you can be sure that a major swath of the audience will already know everything that’s going to happen – because, of course, they’ve read the books, which the movies recreate with a devotional slavishness that even Donald Sutherland’s elegant dictator President Snow might applaud. Yet even if you haven’t read the books, that feeling of grand, but rote, anticipation will be familiar.

It’s YA-novel wish-fulfillment made sombre and Olympian

Watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the final film in the series, we can all sense more or less what’s coming, because even the “surprises” unfold with grinding inevitability. It’s the sort of movie in which the characters sit around talking about what they’re going to do; only they find a stumbling block placed in their way; at which point they get up and do it anyway; but the result isn’t quite what they expected – until, by the end, it is. If you want to know what the mathematical opposite of suspense looks like, take a look at Mockingjay – Part 2. It’s YA-novel wish-fulfillment made sombre and Olympian.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), that raven-haired archer messiah, announces early on that she plans to kill President Snow, the leader of the fascist Capitol, against which she and her forces are rebelling. Immediately after, she gets shot by a Capitol soldier on live television. Everyone thinks that she’s dead – for about five seconds. Fortunately, that rubbery combat suit of hers is bullet-proof, and one of Katniss’s comrades then sets the film’s tone by announcing that the rebels are going to take the Capitol by storm, with “No more cameras…no more games.” That pretty much sums up the movie. Where the previous Hunger Games sagas all featured some variation on pretty young things jousting to the death in the ultimate reality-TV contest, Mockingjay – Part 2 is a war film, pure and simple, with Katniss shoved into a brigade that wanders through the ruins of the Capitol like the platoon in an old World War Two movie.

Mockingjay – Part 2 is a war film, pure and simple

To the death

Okay, there’s one throwaway ‘game’ element. The ruined city turns out to be a minefield of “pods”, random homicidal booby traps that can rear up in any form: a gargantuan fire bomb, a pair of machine guns blasting from either side of an arch, or – most spectacularly – a giant gushing tidal wave of oil. For a while, the film feels like a videogame played in slow motion, complete with a goal – make it to the heart of President Snow’s mansion! – matched with a chain of violent obstacles. But then the fighters head underground, descending into a series of sanitation tunnels, and the mayhem of the pods fades away – replaced, momentarily, by an encounter with jaw-gnashing sewer mutants who look like the Blue Man Group after an acid bath.

Theirs is a romance to make Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart look like Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh

The platoon members include the redoubtable Finnick (Sam Claflin), the charismatic squad leader Boggs (Mahershala Ali), and – yes – Katniss’s preppie love object Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). As Peeta and Katniss get reacquainted, you could swear that theirs is a romance to make Twilight’s Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart look like Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

The film features a bit of chatter about how the platoon is going to be filmed, their exploits used as propaganda. In Mockingjay – Part 2, the revolution will be televised! But the truth is that the whole death-as-entertainment  aspect of the Hunger Games series that critiqued our love of reality TV peaked in the first movie. It has lent the entire series a thin veneer of sophistication: every time Stanley Tucci shows up as Caesar Flickerman, in his Wizard of Oz-meets-Kenneth Anger hair, it feels like a “statement” is being made – about media-age phoniness, the decadence of the global entertainment state. But all of that is frosting, really, slathered on a conventional cake of teen rivalry and romance.

The trouble with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is that Katniss and her rebel cronies never come up with anything intricate enough to be called a plan. Their strategy is: kill President Snow. Of course, it can’t be quite that simple, and near the end, when Julianne Moore trots out her Hillary Clinton-as-imperious-victor impersonation as Alma Coin, leader of the rebel forces, you can tell what’s going to happen well before it does. Even if you haven’t read the book. The scale is epic, but the imagination at work is from hunger.

★★☆☆☆

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