[Screen It]


(2015) (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson) (PG-13)

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Action/Drama: In a post-apocalyptic world, the former teenage winner of a televised battle to the death competition continues to work for the rebellion against her nation's president and his totalitarian government, all with the plan of assassinating that man.
In the undetermined, post-apocalyptic future, the government had long controlled the populace of Panem by dividing them into twelve districts. Each year, there was a televised event known as the Hunger Games where one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each district were selected to compete in a battle to the death. It was designed as entertainment for the masses, but really to show the people that resistance against the government would be futile.

Unfortunately for President Coriolanus Snow (DONALD SUTHERLAND), the unlikely winners of the 74th Hunger Games -- teenagers Katniss Everdeen (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) and Peeta Mellark (JOSH HUTCHERSON) -- turned against the government and joined the resistance movement lead by President Alma Coin (JULIANNE MOORE) and Snow's former game maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN). Now that they've rescued Peeta from a propagandist brainwashing that put him at odds with Katniss, she's determined to kill Snow and end the madness once and for all.

She ends up joining a military platoon led by Boggs (MAHERSHALA ALI) and his second-in-command, Lt. Jackson (MICHELLE FORBES), joining the likes of Katniss' former boyfriend, Gale Hawthorne (LIAM HEMSWORTH), former competitor, Finnick Odair (SAM CLAFLIN), and others to make their way through the city. Unbeknownst to Katniss or her ally, former Games winner Haymitch Abernathy (WOODY HARRELSON), Coin wants to continue using Katniss as part of a propaganda machine, putting her far behind the front line but pretending to be there as covered by a TV crew consisting of director Cressida (NATALIE DORMER) and her brotherly crew, Castor (WES CHATHAM) and Pollux (ELDEN HENSON).

As they make their way through the ravaged city toward Snow's palace, they must contend with the unexpected arrival of Peeta who's still not quite himself yet, various deadly booby-traps, and Snow's heavily armed peacekeepers who are on the lookout for Katniss and her team.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Let's face the cinematic facts. While specialty studios, art-house divisions and filmmakers' self-financed movies usually put art above commerce, the reverse is usually the case for the major studios. After all, it's not called "show business" just because that sounds catchy. And I'm all for studios big and small to make as much money as possible as that's the lifeblood for future releases.

But blatant money-grabs rub me the wrong way, be that in terms of unnecessary and often unwanted remakes, sequels that increasingly get higher in the titular Roman numerals, and adaptations that are split into two separate films just to get the public to pay twice for what should have otherwise been a one-off experience.

Such is the case with both last year's "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" and this week's imaginatively titled follow-up, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2." Both are based on Suzanne Collins' novel "Mockingjay," the final installment of the author's "The Hunger Games" trilogy. While I haven't read that or its literary predecessors, its 390 page length certainly didn't dictate two 2-plus hour movies, especially when one observes what ultimately transpires across both pics.

Considering Part 1 grossed north of $755 million worldwide and Part 2 is expected to do the same or more, it was certainly a wise financial move. But what about artistically? While I liked but wasn't blown away by the first two installments in the series, here's what I had to say about the 2014 flick:

"After sitting through the just over 2-hour long adaptation, I can attest that, yes, it indeed feels padded, seems like a teaser for the final installment, and thus come off as the weakest of the entries so far. There's really not much to the plot that takes up where "Catching Fire" left off last year. Following all of the action (not to mention the intriguing if disturbing premise of the original), scribes Danny Strong and Peter Craig have focused most of the plot on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, natch, reprising this cash cow role) being earmarked as the figurehead of the resistance movement against the totalitarian government run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, with considerably less to do this time around in the part)."

At least this pic -- obviously directed and written by the same folks as last time -- thankfully wraps things up and thus avoids the cliffhanger tease aura. Yet, the above observation also applies to this nearly 140-minute film that likewise feels padded. It naturally picks up where the last one left off. Katniss has just survived an attack by her brainwashed fellow former tribute (Josh Hutcherson reprising his role), and he's slowly being returned to normal, but is still unstable enough to prove unpredictable and possibly dangerous. Having had enough (which is how I imagine Lawrence feels about this series aside from receiving a handsome payday and likely forever residuals), Katniss decides she has to go and kill Snow and put an end to the madness.

And thus she sets out, accompanied by a small group of others, and must contend with booby-traps, monsters and treachery along the way. That's just about all there is, with a few brief cameo appearances by characters who've populated and had far larger roles in the previous entries.

Director Francis Lawrence manages to make some of the action scenes thrilling to one degree or another. Yet, the film's big signature set-piece -- where the team is down in dark and wet tunnels and must contend with fast-moving, voracious and large-mouthed monsters -- feels like an homage to (or if you're more cynical, a direct rip-off of) similar scenes from "Aliens." Alas, while the helmer is competent with the material, he's no James Cameron in that regard.

At one point, Julianne Moore's rebel president character announces that the captured government figures should be put through their own Hunger Games, a suggestion not entirely without merit in terms of karma, comeuppance and tying the beginning and end of the trilogy together.

Alas, that doesn't happen. Instead, a number of characters get offed along the way and our protagonist does something at the end that's presumably supposed to shock (at least those who haven't read the book), but is about as predictable as they come and thus doesn't carry the weight or surprise it's presumably supposed to.

Fans of the book and/or film series may very well not mind and instead will likely ravenously consume all that's presented. And the studio will certainly enjoy counting all of the money it's going to be raking in. The rest of us will likely have a "meh" reaction as what started out with an intriguing if disturbing premise early on ultimately has devolved into something far less intriguing, engaging or interesting. Slightly better than its immediate predecessor simply for wrapping things up, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 17, 2015 / Posted November 20, 2015

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