Final ‘Hunger Games’ feels very familiar

Jennifer Lawrence is back as tough Katniss Evergeen in the final “Hunger Games” movie. (Courtesy Murray Close/Lionsgate)

Fans will no doubt enjoy “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay ⎯ Part 2,” which concludes the adventures of fearless archer Katniss Everdeen. But as Katniss braves new deadly obstacles and fights to restore democracy to Panem, the movie doesn’t deliver the emotional charge that this fourth and final installment of the megapopular “trilogy” should.

Little is new in this second half of what may be the grimmest-ever zillion-dollar popcorn movie. Based on the Suzanne Collins young-adult novel, it is again directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss, action heroine and force of goodness.

Recovered from her latest near-fatal scrape perpetrated by the heinous President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss has become a soldier in the underground revolution led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and right-hand man Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last screen appearance).

Unhappy with her role as merely the movement’s “Mockingjay” symbol, Katniss goes rogue.

Joined by brainwashed love interest and fellow Hunger Games survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), childhood friend and wannabe love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and other returning characters, Katniss launches her own revolt.

She leads rebels from the impoverished, war-ravaged districts into the wealthy Capitol, where they must navigate terrain lethally booby-trapped by Snow. Her aim is to assassinate Snow with her bow and arrow.

Actress Lawrence, the primary factor behind the success of the franchise, is, again, superb. She brings Katniss to life as an action heroine, a reluctant but efficient revolutionary, and caring, decent soul.

Francis Lawrence is good with action, too. A segment in which Katniss and company battle slimy, people-eating lizard “mutts” in the sewers is a highlight. (Due to the plan laid out by initial “Hunger Games” director Gary Ross, who set the franchise’s, relatively speaking, down-to-earth tone, the movie is, thankfully, not in 3D.)

Another positive is the female hero, whose political ideals are more prominent than her romantic life. (The filmmakers wisely downplay the tepid Katniss-Peeta-Gale triangle.) And the movie addresses relevant, important political themes, such as killing civilians in the name of democracy and the ways in which power corrupts.

But “Mockingjay” should have ended last year instead of being split in half for reasons involving only the box office. Like its predecessor, it doesn’t contain enough substance to sustain a two-hour-plus running time. It feels overly familiar and makes frustratingly little emotional impact. A sappy coda is a reminder that a Hollywood film based on a dystopian young-adult novel can handle only so much darkness.

While actress Lawrence gets an opportunity to shine, and Moore’s Coin has some complexity, the rest of the cast is hampered either by a dearth of screen time or by story elements that subdue their once colorful characters.

That said, viewers will enjoy returning faces: Elizabeth Banks as fashion-crazy Effie, Woody Harrelson as sobered-up Haymitch, Sam Claflin as Katniss ally Finnick, Stanley Tucci as oily Caesar Flickerman, Natalie Dormer as guerrilla filmmaker Cressida, Willow Shields as Kat’s younger sister, and an edgy Jena Malone as damaged Johanna, among others.

Banks’ and Harrelson’s characters share a sparkling moment the filmmakers should have expanded on.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2
two and a half stars
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore
Written by Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Rated PG-13
Running time 2 hours, 16 minutes

In Other News