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The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection: 6-Disc Blu-ray + Digital HD Review - Page 1 of 2

The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection: 6-Disc Blu-ray + Digital HD box art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection

The Hunger Games (2012),
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013),
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014),
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2015)

2.40:1 Widescreen (Catching Fire: 1.78:1-2.40:1 Widescreen)
Films 1-2: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English) / Films 3-4: Dolby TrueHD/Dolby Atmos 7.1 (English)
All Films: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Films 2-4: Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service) / Film 3: DTS 2.0 Headphone (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: March 22, 2016 / Suggested Retail Price: $64.97
Six single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s)
Six-Sided Digipak in Embossed Cardboard Box
Also available in 8-Disc DVD + Digital edition ($54.98 SRP)

Buy The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection at Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD + Digital

The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 are three of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).The Hunger Games ranks 16th,
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ranks 18th,
and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 ranks 81st
in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

With this month's home video release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, Lionsgate has taken the obvious and appropriate step of releasing the entire Hunger Games saga in a collection. The six-disc Blu-ray edition of those is reviewed here. It consists of the four Blu-rays released for the first three films (the first movie got a bonus disc) plus the brand new Mockingjay, Part 2 Blu-ray and an exclusive new disc of previously unreleased bonus features for the first three films. If you're not interested in reading about the movies, then skip ahead to Page 2 for a discussion of things specific to this Blu-ray release.


The Hunger Games (2012) movie poster The Hunger Games

Theatrical Release: March 23, 2012 / Running Time: 143 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Gary Ross / Writers: Suzanne Collins (novel & screenplay); Gary Ross, Billy Ray (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mallark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane), Toby Jones (Claudius Templesmith), Alexander Ludwig (Cato), Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove), Amanda Stenberg (Rue), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Paula Malcomson (Katniss' Mother), Jacqueline Emerson (Foxface), Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh), Leven Rambin (Glimmer)

Mere months after the Harry Potter film series concluded, The Hunger Games arrived to fill the void left by that ten-year fantasy franchise. Adapted from the best-selling young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games was anticipated from the moment it was announced. It was envisioned as a potential successor of Potter and Twilight,
the vampire series that would conclude later in 2012. The first Hunger even outperformed the highest expectations, as its $408 M North American gross bested every one of those two benchmark series' installments (and all but Sorcerer's Stone after adjusting for inflation).

By the end of its opening weekend, Hunger was the biggest hit in the history of distributor Lionsgate, long considered just outside the lines of the major movie studios, decimating the company's handful of modest performers, nearly all of them having the words "Tyler Perry" or "Saw" in their titles. Domestically, when The Hunger Games' long theatrical run finally concluded six months later, it was handily the third highest-earning film of 2012 and the 13th highest-grossing film of all time. Even if it didn't get quite as much support from international markets as most tentpoles do these days, it still pulled in close to $700 million worldwide, an extraordinary sum for a $78 M production with somewhat uncertain prospects.

It wasn't just the huge numbers that made The Hunger Games worth noticing. This four-quadrant entertainment, reminding one of the universally appealing adventures that Steven Spielberg used to direct and produce, was more than just flashy escapism. Its story of youths killing one another for survival/sport in a dystopian future resonated in this age of reality television. It was an invitation to critical thinking, a valuable tool for teenagers who might otherwise have spent their time and money on something as vapid as Transformers. Cementing Jennifer Lawrence as a star, Gary Ross as someone who should direct more often, and unromantic, unmagical, intelligent fiction as potential blockbuster fare, The Hunger Games did a world of good.

Teenaged archer Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) competes in The Hunger Games, a 24-contestant fight to the death.

The series is set in the unspecified future in Panem, where there is a great divide between the opulent ruling Capitol and twelve poor districts surrounding it. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which two citizens between the ages of 12 and 18 are randomly selected from each district to compete in a televised battle to the death, from which a single youth will emerge victorious. This barbaric ritual is tradition -- this year is the 74th -- and also must-see TV for the impoverished masses and wealthy officials alike.

Chosen as one of District 12's two representatives is young Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), but before she is taken away, her teenaged sister Katniss (Lawrence) takes the most unusual step of volunteering in her place. Blonde son of a baker Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) joins her as District 12's other competitor. With a mix of emotions racing through their minds, Katniss and Peeta travel to the Capitol alongside flamboyant chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and their designated mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a Hunger Games winner long ago who today only seems to muster enthusiasm for alcohol.

Big on pageantry, the first film lets an hour pass before the games themselves begin, allowing us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the competition's few rules and designs, with boldly-fashioned commentators (a blue-haired Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones) filling us in. Katniss and her fellow "tributes" are made over, paraded in colorful attire for an Olympic-like opening ceremony, and trained in activities that could save their lives in the arena. As an expert archer, a skill she's used to hunt animals for food back home, Katniss has a bit of an edge, but many things factor into a tribute's survival, from forming alliances to winning sponsors and public sympathy.

District 12 tributes Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) hold hands for all to see during their fiery Opening Ceremony appearance.

The Hunger Games is classified as science fiction, action, and adventure, but not fantasy, because almost nothing which occurs in it defies the laws of our world. Where Potter and Twilight soared on fantastical elements, Hunger excels on good old-fashioned storytelling. It holds similar interests in a large cast of young people and establishing colorful settings and rules.
Without anything easily labeled magic or supernatural (Katniss does earn the nickname "The Girl on Fire" for a dress that looks like it's aflame and beasts are instantly conjured by gamekeepers), the film has something of a timeless universal appeal, as it contrasts this fascinating futuristic universe of disparity with something resembling ancient gladiatorial combat.

The kill-or-be-killed design does many interesting things. It minimizes predictability and eliminates the drawn-out wars between good and evil that define other franchises. It also challenges conventional morality, as survival instincts are placed on a balance with sheer predatoriness. While your reasonable expectations are never outrageously defied and the film does rely on some old tricks to maintain sympathy (for instance, the Disney animation tradition of villain falling to his or her own demise is upheld), the entertainment remains creative and stimulating.

Violence is gratefully kept to a necessary minimum, but that doesn't change the bizarre fact that a franchise largely embraced by young people centers on a savage competition in which young people kill each other. There are certain moments, like when one girl pushes another to the brink of death, that make you wonder what has happened to family entertainment. But to dismiss on that basis would require you to overlook a bevy of admirable values demonstrated by the characters of selflessness, sacrifice, and teamwork.

Those values are not overplayed, with the film remaining artfully subtle and requiring you to process its themes on your own. The story is rich with ideas. It's not purely allegorical, but it's incredibly easy to draw comparisons to the human nature William Golding wrote about in Lord of the Flies. This is the kind of movie you could discuss all day from various angles and not grow tired of it. Hunger is even more conducive to thinking and discussion than Harry Potter, whose tales may be complex and magnificent but still break down a little more neatly into standard good vs. evil morality, the young wizards' adventures being less relevant to our own.

The Hunger Games deftly manages to satisfy young and adult moviegoers alike. It doesn't talk down to viewers or shun harshness. Gary Ross, who receives screenplay credit along with Collins herself and action scribe Billy Ray (Flightplan, Breach), is not an obvious choice for the helm, having only previously directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit in addition to writing works as varied as Big, Dave, and The Tale of Despereaux. But he proves to be a good fit for this material.

The interestingly-fashioned Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) cheerily chooses the youths who will represent District 12 in the deadly 74th Annual Hunger Games. Is that Woody Harrelson?!", asked a moviegoer a good hour into my showing of the film. Why, yes, it is! Donning a blonde wig, Harrelson plays District 12's mentor, alcoholic former champion Haymitch Abernathy.

While some will criticize his use of vιritι-style shaky camerawork on scenes in set the districts and in the games themselves as pedantic, that touch adds flavor and distinction to these proceedings. The contrast is not unlike The Wizard of Oz separating its worlds with sepia tones and Technicolor. Though Ross isn't the flashiest of writer-directors, he knows how to engage our senses and also not to overstep bounds of sentimentality, romance, or comedy. The film's balance of genres and tones is exceptional. What could easily have been dizzying or haphazard instead is a smooth and consistently enjoyable experience.

Finally, the film's casting is terrific. It's now impossible to imagine anyone but Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role. Her work in Winter's Bone making her an obvious fit, Lawrence infuses the part with the right amount of gravitas and charm. Katniss is no Bella Swan, able to disappear as a pawn between two otherworldly suitors. She is an appealing and active heroine, an effortlessly strong female character who isn't transparently designed to invite gender studies attention or respond to the generally male-driven worlds of adolescent-oriented superhero cinema.

Surrounding Lawrence are not stars but actors who have proven to be capable in a variety of settings. Josh Hutcherson remains one of his generation's strongest talents. Though lacking anything similar in his filmography, Woody Harrelson feels at ease in an outlandish wig. Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks embrace some of their boldest characterizations to date. Even actors granted limited screentime, like Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, and Lenny Kravitz, have enough presence to make an impact. In every one of these turns, even something as questionable as a generic hunk love interest like Liam Hemsworth, it's easy to think of The Twilight Saga's equivalent and be grateful for the far more agreeable results here.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) movie poster The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Theatrical Release: November 22, 2013 / Running Time: 146 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Francis Lawrence / Writers: Suzanne Collins (novel Catching Fire); Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mallark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee Latier), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Toby Jones (Claudius Templesmith), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Lynn Cohen (Mags), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Amanda Plummer (Wiress), Sandra Lafferty (Greasy Sae), Paula Malcomson (Katniss' Mother), Patrick St. Espirit (Commander Romulus Thread), Alan Ritchson (Gloss), Stephanie Leigh Schlund (Cashmere), Meta Golding (Enobaria), Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta), Bruno Gunn (Brutus)

In the twenty months that passed between original film and its first sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lionsgate's franchise inspired no backlash or fatigue. That helped this become the rare sequel to build upon its predecessor commercially. Adding $16 million domestically and over $150 M worldwide to the first movie's already robust grosses,
Catching Fire eventually overtook Iron Man 3 to become the domestic box office king of 2013 releases. Again, though, the commercial success reflected something more important. Catching Fire is every bit as good as, and maybe even slightly better than, the original movie.

Catching Fire opens not long after Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) of the impoverished District 12 became co-victors in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Traditionally, only one winner emerges from the televised, government-organized competition in which randomly chosen young tributes from all twelve districts use strategy, skills, and alliances to outlast the others. Posing as young lovers who would rather die together than see the other perish, Katniss and Peeta both survived in what Panem's President Snow (Donald Sutherland) considers an act of defiance. He especially views Katniss, who volunteered in place of her younger sister, as a threat for the hope she has given the downtrodden masses in this economically disparate future.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wows Caesar Flickerman and his captive audience with her winged Mockingjay dress.

Katniss must bid farewell to her hometown love Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and her mother and sister to embark on a victors tour with Peeta, past champion Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and District 12 chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). With this year holding the 75th annual Hunger Games, the Capitol invokes the Quarter Quell format, meaning that past victors of varying ages (one of each gender per district) will compete in another fight to the death. Katniss and Haymitch's names are chosen, but Peeta volunteers in his mentor's place.

Katniss and Peeta form alliances with an assortment of tributes, including the brazen Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), the overconfident Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), silent aging Mags (Lynn Cohen), and odd, tech-savvy middle-aged couple Beetee and Wiress (Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer). Their domed interactions, overseen and choreographed by new head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), expose them to poison fog, ferocious monkeys, tempting Jabberjays, and other obstacles in addition to opponents' hostilities, and, of course, hunger and dehydration.

For such a mainstream force, this series is unusually artful and offbeat. Harry Potter seems like the most fitting comparison, but that wizarding adventure franchise was very British and somewhat traditional in its thrills and good/evil mythology. Hunger Games is American in origin and less global in its appeal, but its class and pedigree feel on the order of Potter. Warner Bros' octet of fantasies attracted respected award-winning actors and filmmakers largely from the UK. Hunger Games has similarly assembled strong predominantly American talent on both sides of the camera.

Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) has nothing to lose while competing against fellow past victors in the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games.

Lawrence has since blossomed into a full-fledged movie star and an Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook, but she had little more than the acclaimed indie Winter's Bone (her first of now five Academy Award nominations) and TBS's "The Bill Engvall Show" to her name when she was cast in the lead role. To some, it may have looked like Lawrence was taking the Kristen Stewart route, sacrificing promising artistic credibility for cinematic immortality and a few years of big paychecks.

That clearly has not been the case, with the actress doing an extraordinary job to keep this lucrative franchise respectable and dramatically fulfilling while still somehow finding time for substantial grown-up movies, like her three decorated turns for writer/director David O. Russell. I can't think of any other film actress who has risen this quickly and extensively on such quality work. Even her X-Men prequels have been several notches above that Marvel series' history to date. If she can continue to elude both burnout and public backlash, the latter an especially oppressive force in our cynical Internet age, Lawrence could be enjoying the most interesting and exciting career of any film actress in recent memory. That must be simultaneously invigorating and terrifying for a 23-year-old who was basically unknown just a few years ago.

Though it is distributed by the merged companies behind Twilight, Hunger Games feels closer to Lawrence's breakthrough indie Winter's Bone in sensibilities. Gladly, it is fundamentally different and better than that angsty vampire and werewolf teen romance universe. The romance of Hunger Games is never the main event, taking a backseat to this complicated political climate and these life-or-death competitions that feel like a believable evolution to today's reality television. Catching Fire again revels in pageantry, making sure you take in the rich contrast between the opulent Capitol and the drab surrounding districts, including Katniss' own. We don't get into the games until the 80-minute mark, more than halfway in. When we do, there's no feel of "been there, done that." I'm not sure how we're spared that dιjΰ vu,
The Hunger Games Official Store
but we are. The different contestants, stakes, behind-the-scenes intrigue, and inspired conflict distinguish this outing from the previous. The Games remain taut, creative, and compelling. Despite that intimidating runtime (which, it must be said, is barely 135 minutes pre-closing credits), only briefly in one action sequence does the picture come close to lagging.

Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) assumes the helm from Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) to no evident detriment or even noticeable change. Whereas the first film credited its screenplay to Ross, author Suzanne Collins and Captain Phillips scribe Billy Ray, this one hails from Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) and Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine's Michael Arndt (calling himself Michael deBruyn, for some reason). Likewise, the change doesn't preclude from this sequel dispensing more of the first film's winning fabric. There's an abundance of technical appeal and imaginative fantasy (or science fiction, if you prefer), but they both serve to complement the character-driven storytelling, which in contrast to Potter, doesn't even require you know the books to feel like you're getting everything you should be.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014) movie poster The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Theatrical Release: November 21, 2014 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Francis Lawrence / Writers: Suzanne Collins (novel and adaptation); Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mallark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Julianne Moore (President Alma Coin), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Mahershala Ali (Boggs), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee Latier), Paula Malcomson (Katniss' Mother), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Natalie Dormer (Cressida), Evan Ross (Messalla), Elden Henson (Pollux), Wes Chatham (Castor), Sarita Choudhury (Egeria), Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta)

When it came time to adapt the seventh and final novel in J.K. Rowling's wildly popular fantasy series, filmmakers had to decide how to do justice to a 759-page book and end a beloved film franchise more than ten years in the making on a satisfying high note with a reasonable runtime. They chose to split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films.

The move seemed to pay off: Part 1 performed comparably to its six predecessors and Part 2 set series records both commercially and critically. With that, "double the movie, double the profit" became an acceptable philosophy for the studios behind today's best-attended film series. Summit went that route for the final installment of The Twilight Saga. Also to be divided into two movies are the finales of the Divergent series and Marvel's The Avengers.

The questionable practice was put to use on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. Mockingjay has not been split into two films out of necessity; Suzanne Collins' 2010 novel of the same name ran just 391 pages, barely longer than the first book and a page shorter than the second. No, the division is clearly a business move, one that gave Lionsgate two guaranteed smash hits instead of just one.

Two-movie finales may be a savvy strategy for the bottom line, but there are creative repercussions. Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was by far the least eventful installment in that franchise. Even if its build-up eventually paid off in the action-packed Part 2, neither half felt truly complete or self-sufficient. The Breaking Dawn movies had a world of problems, but the unnecessary division seemed to be one factor for those last two dragging that teen vampire series to artistic lows. Again, it was the Part 1 that was most problematic.

Like most, I've found The Hunger Games through its first two films to be a series far superior to Twilight. I also hold the first two Hunger Games installments in higher regard than the majority of Harry Potter movies as well. Mockingjay, Part 1, however, is not impervious to the drawbacks of that one-novel, two-film design. It endures what you assume to be the most challenging act to date with its considerable appeal and entertainment value largely intact, but Part 1 is definitely a minor step down from the far more exciting first two outings.

District 13 president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) designates Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) the Mockingjay, the face of the revolution against the Capitol.

Reflecting the books, this third film moves the series in a different direction. The titular games the featured so prominently in the past two episodes are nowhere to be found. In lieu of life-or-death reality television competition, we find two-time victor Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) fighting for survival and justice against the totalitarian government that has allowed and reinforced a system of extreme inequalities.

Following her defiance of The Capitol, Katniss' homeland, the impoverished District 12, has been exterminated almost in full. Now, finding herself part of a rebellion she didn't foresee, the popular and inspiring teenaged girl is an obvious choice to become the rallying figure of this movement. On the recommendation of duplicitous former gamemaker Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the secret District 13's President Alma Coin (newcomer Julianne Moore) agrees to make Katniss the "Mockingjay."

Plutarch sets out to make a number of "propos" (propaganda short films) starring Katniss. Visiting her decimated district and others who have been wounded but not yet defeated by The Capitol's forces, the expert young archer is flatteringly shot by an artsy group of guerilla filmmakers. All the while, Katniss worries about the safety and well-being of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), her Hunger Games co-champion, supposed husband and genuine love interest. While she is doing District 13's bidding, Peeta is being interviewed on television at the Capitol by talk show host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), his remarks about the revolution creating some discord.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) cannot hide her anger after witnessing first-hand the destruction brought on by explosions.

While The Hunger Games has always had a wealth of social commentary, this threequel gets more political to slightly diminished effect. There has been an element of activism to Katniss' heroism, but she has now evolved from sympathetic,
strong-willed survivor into a leader of a full-blown cause for which viewers may have trouble summoning as much passion as the marginalized masses of the dystopian Panem. At different times, the film reminds of real tragedies, from the Holocaust to the September 11th terrorist attacks. There are public executions and armed guards shooting into organized raids.

It all feels rather dark for a bestselling young adult novel series and a film franchise that probably plays most strongly with teenagers. Lest we forget, this is a series founded on the premise of children forced into killing one another for sport. As bleak as it gets and as uncomfortable as its evoking of real atrocities might make you, one has to admire the provocative nature of Collins' story and greatly prefer it to some escapist vampire-werewolf-human love triangle that crumbles under scrutiny and is making up rules as it goes.

Mockingjay, Part 1 consistently engages and has some sharp moments, but it is never quite as effective as its predecessors. The stakes are supposed to be rising, as Katniss moves from simply trying to outwit her fellow youths and victors to outright taking on the malicious President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But it doesn't feel like they are, without tributes dying off and various creative obstacles presenting themselves in the domed battlefield. It's not that you want yet another Hunger Games; two such competitions already were plenty even if Catching Fire did an extraordinary job of not feeling like a retread. I'm not sure where the franchise should go from here and it kind of feels like neither was Collins, despite having the second story flow directly into this one, at least on film. On the plus side, Part 1 respectfully avoids the aimless, meandering feel of Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

Mockingjay seizes choice opportunities for returning cast members to pop up (the most notable exception being Caesar's co-commentator played by Toby Jones), though it doesn't always do the best job of keeping you informed. Those who haven't read the books may be racking their brains to remember who this Annie character is for whom Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) is so concerned. That is the one rare instance where you feel like the movies aren't doing complete justice to the texts, a change from Harry Potter where certain plot points warranting clarification would only get some by reading. In fact, it seems like with this penultimate installment, the films are actually expanding upon Collins' novel to reach a fulfilling runtime. They would appear to do so with the author's blessing; she is credited with adaptation but not the screenplay, indicating her contributions have been different on each film.

For a moment, you fear that Part 1 will end on a real wicked cliffhanger. It goes on a little further, while still setting the stage for a final film where if you haven't read the books (or had them spoiled in detail), seemingly anything could happen to Katniss and the many different people in her world.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014) movie poster The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

Theatrical Release: November 20, 2015 / Running Time: 137 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Francis Lawrence / Writers: Suzanne Collins (novel and adaptation); Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mallark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Julianne Moore (President Alma Coin), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Mahershala Ali (Boggs), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee Latier), Paula Malcomson (Katniss' Mother), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Natalie Dormer (Cressida), Evan Ross (Messalla), Elden Henson (Pollux), Wes Chatham (Castor), Eugenie Bondurant (Tigris), Sarita Choudhury (Egeria), Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta), Meta Golding (Enobaria), Patina Miller (Commander Paylor), Omid Abtahi (Homes), Joe Chrest (Mitchell), Michelle Forbes (Lieutenant Jackson), Misty Ormiston (Leeg #1), Kim Ormiston (Leeg #2), Gwendoline Christie (Commander Lyme)

The Hunger Games ended its four-year run as Hollywood's dominant YA film franchise with its fourth and final installment, Mockingjay, Part 2. Fittingly launched spring 2012, equidistant from the finales of Harry Potter and Twilight, Hunger Games, adapted from Suzanne Collins' best-selling novels, wore its crown well.
Outperforming both of those benchmark fantasy sagas domestically, these dystopian sci-fi films were well-received by critics and moviegoers alike. Four movies in four years is not enough to give this ending the weight and significance of Harry Potter's comparable two-film send-off. Still, this conclusion undoubtedly leaves a void not just at distributor Lionsgate, whose years of prosperity following two decades of niche irrelevance are unlikely to continue, but in the American film market at large.

Mockingjay, Part 2 is a bittersweet farewell. Bitter because like its immediate predecessor, it lacks the impact, allure and excitement of the first two films. Sweet, because those first two movies were outstanding enough for even lesser episodes involving the same characters and universe to hold value above and beyond most teen-oriented cinema.

Unsurprisingly since they share a source text, Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, with 74th Hunger Games co-victors and strategically engaged couple Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) suddenly on opposite sides. Peeta has been programmed by the Capitol, the opulent, oppressive ruling party of Panem, to kill Katniss, the face of the people's revolution, the so-called Mockingjay that has been a symbol of hope for the twelve thirteen impoverished, woebegone districts.

Coached by District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final role), Katniss has played the part extraordinarily well, delivering empowering speeches and exposing the unconscionable measures taken by the totalitarian government that gave them adolescent death competitions as reality television.

Katniss continues to be the face of the revolution as instructed, but she has her own plan to end this age of tyranny: to personally assassinate Panem's President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She relays this covert self-devised plan to her company: the offbeat squad of anarchists with whom she recorded her "propos" (propaganda short films). Also along for this journey, though often in restraints, is Peeta, who is slowly returning to his former self, but repeatedly needs Katniss to distinguish what has been real about this complex media-driven revolt that began in the second film Catching Fire when former victors participating in the Games took aim at the powers that be.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) goes undercover in a hood to avoid detection near the end of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2."

There is no getting around that the Hunger Games films have been less enjoyable since the Games themselves stopped being a part of them. It wouldn't have been right for Collins to continue to place Katniss and Peeta in the arena for life-and-death competition that both, for very good reason, vehemently objected. The fact that we could get two distinct and distinctly satisfying stories using this premise was a great feat in itself. A third attempt would have guaranteed stagnancy and staleness. Instead, we're asked to make a great leap from kids and adults killing one another for sport to political unrest and upheaval. Without the foundation so exquisitely laid by the first two movies, it would be very difficult to buy into this new direction and to take a teenager-led revolution seriously and with interest.

Alas, we're so deeply invested in this universe and this heroine that we'll accept whatever Collins has crafted for both, no matter how different it is from what has come before it. That part is kind of admirable. Today's biggest blockbusters almost inevitably succeed on age-old notions of good and bad. Every Marvel movie can be summed up as a do-good superhero/team of superheroes faces large scale adversity, but triumphs. Change "superhero" to "wizard", "hobbit", or "pirate" and you cover most of the movies that have grossed $300 million or more at the North American box office. The Hunger Games has not entirely abandoned formula, but it has redefined what mass entertainment can be. Movies with an adolescent-centered fanbase have never before laced their stories with such a high degree of social commentary and political warfare.

Whether such material has captivated readers and viewers as much as Katniss' relatable plight, the result of a noble volunteering in her younger sister's place, and her love triangle with Peeta and local heartthrob Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is uncertain. The movies have certainly lost some of their luster by changing gears from violent competition reality television to war zones, resistance, and coups. But they remain thoughtful entertainment with real world relevance. Those inclined to change the channel upon seeing a news report on a foreign country's civil war may find it much easier to be an active participant when it's Katniss vs. the Capitol. Having not read the books, I can't say that this is where I saw the franchise heading or that it's the narrative path I wanted to follow Katniss down. Kudos to Collins for exploring this revolution and getting us hooked enough on other story to mostly continue caring. But it does come at the cost of spending time with characters that have endeared themselves to us (like those played by Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, both of whom hardly feature here).

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is all smiles in his greenhouse, having expected a visit from Katniss.

One of the more noticeable ways in which Mockingjay, Part 2 stumbles is by unleashing "Mutts" on our heroes as they try to survive the heavily booby-trapped Capitol by venturing underground. Upright and less wolf-like than those experienced during the Games, these new zombie-like movie monsters undermine the reality the series has spent years carefully building. While that action set piece strikes you as particularly egregious, others are better, like the one dropping buckets of deadly, fast-moving oil in the vicinity of our conscientious revolters.

Mockingjay, Part 2 does not have the great dramatic punch you want it to. As it rattles off the names of characters who have perished, you are not filled with sadness and nostalgia, only the wish that these last two movies could have been as compelling, creative, and just plain fun as their predecessors. This final installment at least feels sufficiently eventful and self-contained, with a beginning, middle, and end. It isn't plagued with the glaring issues that have afflicted other series transforming their final books to two movies (double the returns!). It nonetheless requires the past movies to provide any real emotional payoff, falling just short of fully satisfying with some hacky, tacky turns it does not suitably sell. Still, better to have reached those lofty heights at all than to stand as average to slightly above average entertainment that many similarly-themed and far less profitable YA novel adaptations have ended up as.

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Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed March 29, 2016.

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