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Review: 'Hunger Games' bids an action-packed adieu

Brian Truitt

Games are over, and Katniss Everdeen really means business now.

Cressida (Natalie Dormer, left) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in franchise closer "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2."

After surviving two battle-to-the-death films and one movie mostly about making propaganda material, Jennifer Lawrence’s ace archer is in for one more fight for her life in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (**½ out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide), the explosively uneven finale to the successful movie franchise. It has the best action sequences of all four chapters, though its revolutionary message gets bogged down by a meandering plot and some good old-fashioned overacting.

With Francis Lawrence back as director for the third time, the grand finale picks up immediately from the first Mockingjay, though that’s its first mistake: Katniss and the rebellious folks of District 13 have just rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a District 12 Hunger Games victor along with Katniss, though he has been brainwashed into thinking Katniss is a total monster and has to claw his way back from the brink of madness.

'Hunger Games' stars take their final bow with 'Mockingjay: Part 2'

A good 30 minutes is just continuing the story of the last movie until the rebels’ plan against the Capitol of Panem — think the one percent crossed with the Empire from Star Wars and the most avant-garde day of New York Fashion Week — starts to come together. After taking down a strategically important fortress at District 2, the march begins on the oppressive Capitol under the behest of resistance leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), though the new battleground is a danger zone of booby traps and killer obstacles. Katniss, Peeta and rebel soldier/Katniss’ childhood BFF Gale (Liam Hemsworth, in the three-spot of the love triangle) are part of an all-star unit that’s to be filmed to keep up morale back home, though Katniss has a different plan: Assassinate the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who has some internal problems of his own.

Everybody’s got issues, and because the cast is so huge, that means a lot of drama to go around. Seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman one more time as rebel commander Plutarch Heavensbee is bittersweet. Gwendoline Christie has a blink-and-you'll-miss it role as District 2 honcho Commander Lyme, and her Game of Thrones co-star Natalie Dormer is back as Panem's coolest filmmaker, Cressida. But best of all, Jena Malone has another chance to bring slightly mad Johanna Mason to bonkers life.

Juggling all those characters tends to slow down the whole show. It’s only in a few of the more exceptional set pieces — where Katniss and crew have to survive a tidal wave of deadly oil, an underground attack by blind humanoid beasties and bombs away on a crowd of people in the Capitol — where Mockingjay kicks into a nice gear.

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After the previous movie had her heroine in PTSD mode, Lawrence gets to stretch her acting chops in the Hunger Games climax. The Katniss/Peeta/Gale dynamic finally works itself out, and cleverly in one sequence where the two dudes devise a bro code. But nobody is helped by Danny Strong and Peter Craig’s script, which offers clunky arena metaphors and corny dialogue like “It’s war, Katniss. War isn’t always personal.”

The last two films are poorly edited and chock-full of filler, such as lingering close-ups of Elizabeth Banks’ weird and wild eyelashes as oddball fashion plate Effie Trinket. There's something to be said about the financial boon of a pair of Mockingjay films that clock in at more than four hours together, though from a filmmaking standpoint, there's a single, really good 2½-hour movie in there. What also doesn’t help is trying to have more endings than TheLord of the Rings: The Return of the King — four aren’t needed when just one good one will do.

Every journey has to come to a close at some point, and while it’s not a perfect exit for Katniss, it’s one where she gets to put her bow, arrow and big heart to good use.