‘Mockingjay — Part 2’ brings ‘Hunger Games’ to dark, bizarre end

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If they had a Concussion Protocol in “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen would be forced into early retirement.

In just this installment, the fourth and last chapter in the wildly successful film series based on Suzanne Collins’ immensely popular novels, Katniss wakes up in a recovery room on three occasions. Seems like every other day, the good citizens of Panem are hearing Katniss is dead, while Katniss is regaining consciousness in a secret recovery room somewhere, tethered to an IV while some attendant or another tells her, “I need you to lie back and relax. You’re going to be OK.”

Is she? Is she really? Even if Katniss makes it to the Capitol, assassinates the slithery and evil President Snow (the invaluable Donald Sutherland) and helps restore freedom to the 13 Districts, is this poor girl ever going to smile again or get a good night’s sleep?

“Mockingjay — Part 2” is a grim, dark, trippy, violent and sometimes just plain bizarre journey, which makes for a fitting if uneven conclusion to a film series that’s always been weird. (So weird I’d say the “Twilight” movies, which feature vampires and wolves and humans getting into all sorts of soap opera-y entanglements, might be less insane than the madness of “The Hunger Games.”

The fourth movie in four years picks up where “Mockingjay — Part 1” left off, with director Francis Lawrence (helming his third straight entry, after Gary Ross directed the first) rightfully assuming if you’re not up to speed now, you’re probably not going to buy a ticket for a stand-alone movie this late in the game.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the dashing but dull Gale (Liam Hemsworth), along with a half-dozen other survivors of previous Hunger Games, are regrouping and preparing to carry out the orders of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of the people’s revolution, who has fantastically streaked hair and wears color-coordinated ensembles (dig those blue leather high-heeled boots!) that make her look like she must might have been the ruthless editor of a major fashion magazine before this whole post-apocalyptic dystopian thing overtook the continent.

RELATED: Jennifer Lawrence loved growing up on ‘Hunger Games’ set

Peeta (the bland Josh Hutcherson, who throughout the series has been the weakest bit of casting) has been brainwashed to kill Katniss — but he’s starting to regain glimpses of his past and his true loyalties. Oh great. He’ll bore us again.

We’re treated to appearances — some far too brief — by a host of A-list talents from previous entries in the franchise, including Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket, the District 12 escort with the ridiculous fashion but a heart of gold; Jeffrey Wright’s tech guru, Beetee; Stanley Tucci’s smarmy television host, Caesar Flickerman; Woody Harrelson’s rebellious former Hunger Games winner, Haymitch Abernathy, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, the ultimate Gamemaker. (Hoffman died during filming but had completed most of his role. Seeing him again, one last time, is of course bittersweet. What a tremendous and unique talent.)

Much of “Mockingjay — Part 2” centers on Katniss and a small platoon of soldiers advancing on the Capitol — first as part of a propaganda mission, but eventually on the front lines. The blending of CGI and practical effects is impressive, but at times it’s difficult to discern just who’s getting shot or beaten or otherwise taken out, especially during an extended sequence set in underground passageways.

Largely gone are the glorious colors and the sometimes comically over-the-top pageantry of some of the previous films. This is primarily a war movie, with no guarantees all your favorite remaining characters are going to make it to the finish line.

I love Sutherland’s showcase moments, especially when he has gathered his cabinet around an enormous circular table and offers a celebratory toast that turns out to be anything but.

Of the younger rebels, Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, with her half-shaved head and her intricate tattoos and her plucky spirit, is the coolest of the bunch. (Dormer’s co-star from “Game of Thrones,” the fantastic Gwendoline Christie, has a tiny, unsatisfying part. I kept hoping she’d return, but alas …)

After a couple of lulls that do little more than pad the film’s overlong two-hour, 17-minute running time, the third act is packed with so much action and so many twists it all feels a bit rushed. But in those final scenes, Lawrence has a chance to shine and remind us she went from promising newcomer to bona fide movie star over these last four films, and Katniss once again finds herself in front of a throng of tens of thousands, hoping she’ll make the right life-and-death decision.

She’s ever the reluctant hero, but her heart and her aim remain true.

[s3r star=3/4]

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins. Running time: 137 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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