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Family Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 137 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This final film in “The Hunger Games” series continues the violence, with war scenes involving bombings, shootings, attacks by nightmarish monsters (all teeth, no eyes), drownings, and other action. Also some kissing, teens sleeping (clothed) in a bed together, and themes involving PTSD and familial grief.

Jennifer Lawrence is the center of the universe in ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” and her fear, anxiety, and anger sell the movie’s themes of grief and despair. All the pieces fit together into a moving conclusion for this blockbuster series.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Hunger Games” juggernaut reaches its finale – for now, given the prequel and spinoff murmurs that have been lingering for years – with “Mockingjay – Part 2,” and it’s a combination of all the things these blockbusters have done right. The cast is excellent; the writing is tight; the themes are believable. The film is beautifully produced and riveting action sequences are everywhere, but the paranoia, anxiety, and sadness are very real. Get your tissues ready.

At this point, if you’re a reader yourself or the parent of a teenager, you couldn’t escape “The Hunger Games.” The series that eclipsed “Twilight” in popularity and global reach has dominated pop culture for years, inspiring similar, lesser series like “Divergent” and launching star Jennifer Lawrence to mega-stardom.

But the final book in the series is a dark, weighty thing, grappling with questions about the inevitability of war and the corruptive nature of politicking, and “Mockingjay – Part 2” doesn’t ignore those issues. It streamlines them so the movie is action-heavy and it lessens some of the love-triangle tensions of the text – spoiler alert: there was never really a chance for Gale – but you can’t leave “Mockingjay – Part 2” without thinking about the world around us. About why the same cycles keep on happening, about how people in power stay in power, about why the world insists on tearing itself apart. Expect conversations with teenage viewers about these themes – and encourage them. If a global blockbuster that will certainly bank more than $1 billion can’t spawn a conversation, what can?

“Mockingjay – Part 2” picks up exactly where “Mockingjay – Part 1” left off: Face of the revolution Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) learns that her fellow Hunger Games victor and the boy she loves, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, of “Epic”), has been brainwashed by the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland, of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”) into wanting to kill Katniss. Her ally, her protector, her friend – everything Peeta is to her has been replaced by a confused, enraged boy hellbent on killing her. Although reeling with the trauma from that, Katniss still has to shoulder her responsibilities as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the uprising against Snow, even though she can tell that rebel leader Coin (Julianne Moore, of “Freeheld”) doesn’t necessarily like her. She wants to use Katniss, but she doesn’t care about her personally – not like Peeta, or Katniss’s mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, of “Free Birds”), or Katniss’s best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth, of “The Expendables 2”) do.

So Katniss continues to be the Mockingjay as the rebels assault the Capitol and go gunning for Snow, but the mission is certainly a deadly one. Along with Gale and other allies, Katniss goes to assassinate the president, facing an array of vicious obstacles along the way, but the most shocking thing is when Coin sends along Peeta, too. What is Coin playing at? Will Peeta ever be the same? “Anybody can kill anybody, Katniss,” says fellow Hunger Games victor Johanna (Jena Malone, of “Sucker Punch”), but does Katniss really have it in her to kill Snow and end this war? Or will the war – even with Snow removed – go on without him?

Aside from the action sequences, “Mockingjay – Part 2” is a quieter movie than you would expect, but that’s because so much of this philosophical wrangling is going on in Katniss’s head. Because the book is written from her point of view, readers have a direct tap into her thoughts, but here we mostly see Lawrence observing, thinking, waiting. She spends most of the film measuring her responses, analyzing other people’s choices, shocked at the depths of violence and hatred that people she thought she understood – people she thought she loved – seem to possess. It goes without saying, given her multiple Oscar nominations and win, that Lawrence is an excellent actress, and how she measures out Katniss’s emotions and reactions to the steadily escalating horrors of war sell the character’s journey totally.

There are things missing here, though, that were welcome in the book: a stretch of time when Katniss and Johanna train together, finally befriending each other as they rebuild their bodies and their minds; a deeper connection with Peeta, who Katniss finally understands she loves; and more focus on Peeta’s recovery as well. A lot of that character building is pushed aside to accommodate lengthier action scenes and more sequences with Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (of “Moneyball”) who plays political mastermind Plutarch; together, the two veterans are magnetic.

But while the lack of those elements is felt, that doesn’t detract from what “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” accomplishes: a nuanced, layered look at what war does to our society, to our citizens, to ourselves. It’s dark stuff for a teen-focused blockbuster, but thought-provoking and timely, too.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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