With this film The Hunger Games series comes to a close. In a dystopian-future North America renamed Panem, a particularly amoral dictatorship presides over a capital city whose denizens live in luxury off the backs of the beleaguered residents of the country’s districts. The oppressed live in poverty but must supply the capital with goods in return for the security the regime says it gives them.
The dictator, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), has until now provided the capital-dwellers with a lavish food supply and sadistic entertainment in the form of the Hunger Games, an annual broadcast spectacle in which two teen residents drafted from each of 12 districts must fight to the death until only one is left. “May the odds be ever in your favor,” hostess Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) would tell the hapless contestants.
But in this movie the Hunger Games are no more and the dictatorship might topple, because a revolt is raging. The rebels’ president, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), commands a force bolstered by District 13, the only area that has the wherewithal to contend with the regime – and that has been doing so for decades, unbeknownst to the other areas, which the regime has kept in the dark.
The heroine and public face of the rebels, expert archer Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who is fondly called “the Mockingjay,” wants to assassinate Snow because he bombed her home district into oblivion. “Nothing good is safe while he’s alive,” she says. But two problems confront her. The first is that the regime has tortured and brainwashed her former partner in the Games, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), into thinking she is his enemy and he must kill her. The second is that her friend from back home, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), now with the rebels, has become ruthless in his military strategizing.
Katniss confides her goal to her Games ally Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), a torture victim, who replies, “Now you’re talking.” She tells Katniss that anyone can be assassinated, “you just have to be willing to sacrifice yourself.” Johanna reveals that a strike team is about to enter the capital. Against Alma Coin’s orders, Katniss stows away on a transport and joins the team, which Boggs (Mahershala Ali) heads. Some of the squad members are Gale, Games ally Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), and a propaganda film crew that Cressida (Natalie Dormer) heads. All receive a suicide pill in case of capture.
Moving through the capital’s heavily booby-trapped streets, the team is startled when Snow’s “peacekeeper” thugs deliver Peeta to them. Brainwashed Peeta soon tries to kill Katniss, just as Snow clearly wanted, but he is subdued. In the meantime Boggs, who has been Katniss’ longtime protector, dies, but not before warning her not to trust anyone. More perils ensue, and Snow, deciding that Katniss must now be dead, trashes her in a broadcast message. But Alma Coin suddenly appears onscreen and says that dead or alive, Katniss will continue to inspire the rebels: “Remember the Mockingjay.”
Peeta now starts to realize he was brainwashed. When the team comes under fierce attack by hideous “mutts,” mutants who fight like orcs on steroids – add genetic mis-engineering to Snow’s crimes – Peeta saves Katniss. The swarming mutts get Finnick, though, and as they are tearing him apart she sets off an explosion that kills him and all the mutts.
Peeta tells Katniss that if she manages to kill Snow, that will mean all their friends’ deaths in the Games and since were not in vain. Disguised, she and Gale join a crowd of capital evacuees to whom Snow has offered refuge in his executive mansion. An explosion kills many, and then mini-bombs from a regime hovercraft blow up evacuee children gathered at the entrance. The bombs also knock Katniss out and kill her little sister Primrose (Willow Shields), a combat medic for the advancing rebels.
Katniss awakens to learn that Snow’s last-ditch troops have deserted him and the rebels have won. From the silent tears of her mom (Paula Malcomson) she realizes Prim is dead. She severs ties with Gale because he admits the bombing strategy might have been his. Before long Katniss encounters a captive Snow, who tells her that it was rebels who bombed the children to place blame on him and that Alma Coin merely wants to replace him. Before Katniss and other Games victors, Alma declares herself the interim president, says Snow and hundreds more will be executed, and unbelievably proposes a symbolic final Hunger Games to distract everyone.
SPOILER ALERT: Before a vast assembly, Katniss, who demanded to be the one to kill Snow, approaches as, defiant and unrepentant, Snow stands tied to a post. Alma, situated above the scene, has just addressed Katniss, saying, “May your aim be as true as your heart is pure.” Katniss aims at Snow, but then fires an arrow that kills Alma. Snow bursts out laughing. Peeta rushes up and stops Katniss from taking her suicide pill. Police drag her away as onlookers rush Snow to kill him.
Later, rebel commander Paylor (Patina Miller) has announced free elections. Katniss’ longtime mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) reads her a letter from friend and Coin aide Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last role) that says he’ll get her home and she’ll be pardoned later. Back home, Katniss, finding Prim’s cat, first rages and then sobs, and finally she caresses kitty. Katniss finds Peeta planting primroses, and she embraces him. They are free at last.
Some years later Katniss and Peeta are relaxing in a sunlit meadow with their happy toddler and their new baby. Katniss tells baby she has nightmares that will never go away but she survives it this way: “I make a list in my head… of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I can remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over…There are worse games to play.”
The Hunger Games series shows teens as taking the reins in the eternal fight against tyranny. Katniss Everdeen might not have been quite perfect, but she had a rebel heart. She gave as good as she got, and she stood up bravely every time after being knocked down. “Remember the Mockingjay!”
This film’s MPAA rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. Refreshingly, there’s no nudity, no cursing, no foul language. There are scenes of war, extreme menace and state terrorism, though. Francis Lawrence directed. Peter Craig and Danny Strong wrote the screenplay. The movie is adapted from the third book of the trilogy by Suzanne Collins. James Newton Howard was the composer and Jo Willems the cinematographer. Philip Messina was production designer. David Scheunemann and Dan Webster were supervising art directors. Set decoration was by Larry Dias and Mark Rosinski. Costume design was by Kurt and Bart.
— Dan Engler