3 out of 4 stars
All games come to an end, even ones as big as The Hunger Games, which blows Rue’s whistle for the final time with the release of Mockingjay Part 2, completing a four-film franchise that will likely clear more than $3 billion at the box office since the world was introduced to Katniss Everdeen in 2012.
The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling books, has been a staple in autumn as the leaves changing color, as the Friday before each of the past four Thanksgivings has marked the release of the next chapter in Everdeen’s quest to topple the evil dictatorship that’s crippled Panem for decades.
Katniss already laid the groundwork by surviving the fight-to-the death challenges in the first two films, The Hunger Games and 2013’s Catching Fire, before becoming the face of the uprising in last year’s The Hungers Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. But as Everdeen, played as always by Jennifer Lawrence, finds out in the film’s final installment, it’s not that hard to pull off an revolution; it’s much harder to install a democracy in a world where so few have so much and so many have so little.
It was never if Katniss would leave the rebels from Panem’s 12 districts to victory; the question was would it be worthy of a 137-minute film that in reality, is the second half of Collins’ final book, which was broken into two movies because Lions Gate wasn’t going to leave hundreds of millions on the table.
Mockingjay Part 2 cements its place in the franchise as being its second-best film – behind the first installment – by showing the audience a side of Katniss that had been unseen. She’s no longer simply the symbol of a revolution – someone who’s best weapon is her morale-boosting speeches. Now, she’s out for blood and her target is egotistical President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), who doesn’t mind killing women and children to subdue the rebels.
Katniss’ mission is to march, well behind the front line, toward the Capitol as part of a specialized propaganda unit to document the next chapter of the country’s history. Katniss is joined by the familiar cast of characters, including the brain-washed Peeta Millark (Josh Hutcherson), top gunner Gale Hawthorn (Liam Hensworth), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer). Their journey to Snow’s front door is the film’ highlight, as they must make it through streets filled with deadly booby traps. Some are flamethrowers, while others are heavy duty machine guns and another triggers a tsunami of crude oil. Underground, however, is just as dangerous, especially when mutants with huge, razor teeth try to feast on Katniss and her buddies as they near the finish line.
The movie’s final 30 minutes culminates with some plot twists that those who haven’t read the book will enjoy.
Lawrence, who won the Oscar for best actress in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, gives her best performance of the franchise, a stark contrast to Mockingjay Part 1, which was her worst of the four movies. She’s complemented well by confidant Heymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) and rebel President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).
But the audience will never know how she could have built upon her relationship with Plutarch Heavensbee, whose character had to be diminished after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug-induced death before Mockingjay Part 2 was finished shooting. Still, the way director Francis Lawrence finds a way to bring Hoffman back to life for a final performance is commendable.
Mockingjay Part 2 wraps a tidy bow on a history-making franchise that emerged made a big mark in Lions Gate’s bank accounts as it did on the movie industry.
Worldwide, The Hungers Games generated $694.3 million, followed by Catching Fire’s $865 million and Mockingjay Part 1’s $755.3. Domestically, the three films’ combined $1.169 billion ranks 17th, just below The Dark Knight Trilogy ($1.186B) but well behind the eight-film Harry Potter franchise $2.39B. However, if Mockingjay Part 2 does just a little bit above the average of the franchise’s first three films, The Hunger Games be as high as sixth all-time, above Spider-Man (five films, $1.578B) and below the six-film J.R.R. Tolkien franchise ($1.846).
Outside of the box office, Katniss has broken the mold, proving a woman can lead an action franchise, as no other four-film franchise will come close to The Hunger Games. To put it even more into perspective, the five-film Resident Evil franchise, starring Milla Jovovich, grossed $244.4 million, more than $620 million less than Catching Fire.
Though The Hunger Games may be over, its legacy will live forever.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.