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And so, it’s goodbye. After three previous films, more than $2bn at the box office and a lifetime in make-up for Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games draws to a close with Mockingjay — Part 2. Denied the indulgence of an early recap, even fans may need a moment to reorientate. (Anyone thinking of just jumping in now would be best advised to find some kind of online course.) In our last meeting, the fearless Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was attacked by her sometime love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), brainwashed by the barbarous Capitol (heart of the post-apocalyptic North America now renamed Panem). Now, her throat is a mesh of bruises; when she tries to speak, there is silence. She will have to find her voice.
The sound you hear when she does is an industrial-size narrative arc being lowered into place. While the foreground is given over to a climactic assault on the Capitol, the finale also sees Katniss — the backwoods girl who started a revolution — taking charge of her own fate in the face of not just tyrants, but also her own side’s PR and marketing strategy.
For all its heroine’s personal growth, still more sharply drawn is the hall of mirrors of power and propaganda, the media battle between the flailing Capitol and revolutionaries already jostling for place. For a CGI-stuffed blockbuster franchise aimed at 14-year-olds, this was always a smart one, its real life echoes at once grimly specific and usefully vague.
The series’ vast global popularity may well have been helped by the discreet replacement of humour (too prone to not travelling) with splashes of flamboyance: the usual palette of murk and sludge is brightened here by a Capitol shopkeeper surgically remade to resemble a tiger. The cast admire her implanted whiskers as if they were a new, reasonably priced blusher.
Since the first, hyperactive film in 2012, the series has had a regular director in Francis Lawrence. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been in the hands of a war movie virtuoso such as Kathryn Bigelow, but sturdy competence is no crime. A set-piece in which Katniss is pursued by a monster wave of oil has the raw thrill of good action cinema and enough metaphorical oomph to keep the theorists busy for years. In the end, for all the high-end support of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and the flawless Donald Sutherland, these strange, important films belong to Jennifer Lawrence: unsmiling, unbreaking, Joan of Arc for the Snapchat generation.