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Front Page - Friday, November 27, 2015

Hungry no more

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” begins without so much as a “How do you do?” Getting right down to business, it picks up soon after “Part 1” ends, and in so doing, left me scrambling to gather my bearings.

All I could remember was this: Based on a series of three adventure novels by American author Suzanne Collins, the first three “Hunger Games” movies offered an uneven cinematic experience. The first film did a good job of world-building, but the action was incomprehensible. The second one was better. Not great, but better. And the third one, which covered the first half or so of the last novel, felt like filler. It was dull, and it had about as much momentum as a snail taking a leisurely stroll.

I was frustrated enough with how “Part 2” begins that I almost let myself not care about what was taking place. But as I watched, I started to stitch together the loose threads of my memory, and the story began to take shape. Katniss Everdeen, the main protagonist of the series, is still intent on killing President Snow, the dictator who has ruled the 13 districts that make up the nation of Panem with a bloodied fist. Peeta Mellark, one of Everdeen’s love interests, is back in the hands of the rebels but still recovering from having been brainwashed by Snow. And the 13 districts are at odds with one another as they grow closer to toppling Snow. (Their military prowess seems even more suspect in the fourth film. Where did they get all of those weapons and airships?)

And then something I didn’t expect happened: a really good film figuratively unspooled before my eyes.

For starters, the character work is strong. The soap operatic subplot involving the love triangle of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale Hawthorn is given significant dramatic weight, and is not resolved in an cheesy manner, but is given a supremely satisfying conclusion that has an impact on the larger story (and that, by comparison, reveals just how bad the “Twilight” movies are).

There’s also some nicely filmed action. One scene in which a small group en route to Snow’s castle triggers a deadly oil spill on the streets of the deserted capital is thrilling, as is a chase through a subway tunnel during which spinning blades eat through the surface of the tunnel and threaten to slice-and-dice our heroes. But as good as those sequences are, director Francis Lawrence deserves kudos for the portion of the movie in which Snow unleashes something unnatural in an underground tunnel. Lawrence shows a lot of restraint as he builds tension, and chose the perfect moment to let loose.

Then there’s the end of the film. Fans who have read the books will know what’s going to happen, and that’s unfortunate. I liked being surprised. Having not read the books, I’ve assumed the movies were leading up to a defining moment – when Katniss kills Snow. I’m not going to say that doesn’t happen. But I will say “Part 2” climaxes in a way I didn’t expect, and that is deeply gratifying. If the movie is faithful to the book, Collins didn’t take the easy way out at the end of her story, but saved that moment to unleash her worst on the characters she created. I’ve watched many of films based on young adult (YA) novels, and have forgotten them all. But I will not soon forget how the “Hunger Games” movies end.

With “Part 2,” the “Hunger Games” movies end on a strong note. Over the course of four films, characters have changed, their world has shifted, and their future is different because of what they’ve done. That is the essence of good drama. Throw in skilled direction, tightly built action, and solid performances, and you have the essence of a good movie. Bravo to everyone involved.

Three-and-a-half stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.