1. It seems insane to think about now, but there was a time when everyone was worried about whether or not Jennifer Lawrence could pull off the Hunger Games films. Cast as Katniss Everdeen just a year after her breakthrough in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence was considered by many an undeniable talent but a little bit green, maybe not ready to carry the burden of such a massive franchise. After all, just two years before being cast, she was still a regular on The Bill Engvall Show. (See below.)
Lawrence, of course, killed it, and became not just one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but one of the most respected young actors in the business. She has almost single-handedly turned David O. Russell into an A-list director again, she’s headlining a Steven Spielberg movie and a Darren Aronofsky movie and she’s setting a standard for a new type of female star, one who throws her weight around on the pay gap and doesn’t take any shit from anybody. What once looked like too massive of a franchise for her now, as it turns out, almost seems to be beneath her. She’s winning Oscars, showing up on the Time 100 list and inspiring Congressional investigations to come to her defense. After all that, a series of somewhat silly young adult novels might seem like a bit of a waste of her time.
2. It’s then yet another credit to Lawrence’s talent that, in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two, the finale of this series, she’s probably better than she’s ever been. She has every reason to mail it in at this point; these movies have gone on forever, she’s moved beyond them, she has been making them for nearly 20 percent of her life at this point. But she’s still fantastic in them, strong, vulnerable, willful and impressively physical at the center of one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time. There is no disdain or exhaustion in her performance, no sense that she’s over this Katniss business already, even though she probably should be. This has always been a thinly written character, but it never feels that way when Lawrence plays her: There’s a pride and purpose to Lawrence’s Katniss that makes you cheer for her, feel for her and fear her. There are so many plotlines and so many characters and so much going on in all these movies, but the only thing that really matters is Lawrence. She carries the series on her back effortlessly, like it’s nothing. She never sells anything out.
3. The movie, helpfully, doesn’t give us any transition from the last film; where Mockingjay, Part One stopped, this one just picks up right there. This saves us unnecessary exposition and just gets right to the good stuff. Thus, Katniss is in the endgame here, trying to save her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, still not quite believable as a grownup) and team with an always-impressive array of supporting actors (Julianne Moore! Woody Harrelson! Elizabeth Banks! Jena Malone! Philip Seymour freaking Hoffman!) to take down the evil President Snow (a cackling, awesome Donald Sutherland) and save all the districts from the garden-variety dystopia their society has become. This is all pretty familiar stuff, and to be honest, a lot of the world-building and mythology of this franchise has started to become a little dense and irrelevant to me. The Capitol has been fighting the rebels for four movies now, drawn out as long as possible for maximum box office, and it’s not difficult to run out of patience for the whole process. Let’s get this wrapped up now. That I, the viewer, have grown more tired of the Hunger Games universe than the star of the franchise has speaks all the more strongly for Lawrence’s commitment to the role. Remember how disinterested Kirsten Dunst looked by the third Spider-Man movie? Lawrence is the opposite of that.
4. Thus, when the movie takes an impressively dark turn late—one showing a little bit more complex grasp of issues of power and society than the earlier films might have revealed—Lawrence and company make it sing: For all the talk of revolution, the movie convincingly argues that the new boss is always the same as the old boss. There’s also a sad but cathartic kick of seeing Hoffman on screen, one final time, nearly two years after his death; even in such a small, inconsequential role, he dominates the screen. (He’s so magnetic that much of the last 15 minutes of the film features people talking about him even though he was barely in the movie.) The movie feels weightier than the earlier films, even if it, still, keeps trying to shoehorn a love triangle that is not only pointless to the overall proceedings but also a bit embarrassing to the male particulars: Jennifer Lawrence picking between Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth is like a sitting President deciding whether or not to run for dog catcher or city comptroller. The love story has always been the least interesting part of these movies, and the only time Lawrence ever strains credulity in the role. When you’re shooting arrows and busting gender roles and saving the goddamned world, who cares who she “chooses?” The only correct answer is neither.
5. As with any final entry in a long-running franchise, this film goes on way too long and ends far too many times. (I counted five different, “oh, so this is the last scene, right?” moments before I gave up and took my coat back off.) This is an ocean liner at this point, and it takes a while for an ocean liner to stop. But it’s still a perfectly cromulent way to finish all this off, wrapping up the plotlines and giving everybody their big send-away. (Though, the scene in which our heroes attempt to infiltrate the capitol to kill the leader by impersonating war-torn refugees is unfortunately timed.) This is not a particularly historic or memorable film franchise; you won’t be rebooting this 30 years from now with this cast and newcomers or anything. But it’s not Twilight either. The Hunger Games is what launched Jennifer Lawrence into the stratosphere, and she thusly honors the franchise by giving it her all one last time. That’s how the series will be remembered, and that’s probably enough.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.