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By Tom Glasson
November 20, 2015
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By Tom Glasson
November 20, 2015
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Anyone with even a passing interest in gaming will be familiar with the concept of the ‘boss arena’. Be it Mario or Mass Effect, there’s an intuitive moment experienced by every player when their character suddenly strolls into a vast open space surrounded by high, insurmountable walls and they're gripped by an immediate, unnerving sense that things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Whether or not this idea directly informed the production team of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II, the same unsettling sensation rears its head throughout the franchise’s final installment and will leave audiences scrambling for their invisible 'save buttons' time and time again. An abandoned city square, a deserted mall and a sewer system all play host to these phenomenally tense and terrifying sequences (so much so in that last sequence that parents were taking their children out of the screening).

Indeed, this is a fittingly bleak and violent conclusion to a franchise where anything less would have represented a disappointing commercial concession. To end on a positive note would have offered an incompatibly upbeat finale to this tale of dystopian bloodsport in which children are forced to kill for entertainment and political intimidation. Even the satirical pomp of characters like Elizabeth Banks’s Effie and Stanley Tucci’s Caesar has been stripped bare, so much so that you could almost be forgiven for thinking Mockingjay II was filmed in greyscale.

Gone, too (thankfully) is the teenage angst that mired much of the previous film in near unceasing dullness. In fact, everything here is kept mercifully simple: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) intends to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but to do so she and her team must first navigate the perils of the Capital minefield. That’s it. That’s all that’s going on here. And the film is much stronger for it.

The problem, of course, with such a dark and joyless approach is that portrayals of gritty, hardened soldiers can easily be mistaken for bored or lacklustre performances, and Mockingjay II is no exception. Sutherland, in fact, appears to be the only one enjoying himself, both as a character and a performer. His wry smile and pointed barbs earn almost every one of the sparse laughs throughout, leaving everyone else to move from scene to scene as if in a communal drunken daze. On the rare occasions where emotion does surface, it’s invariably from one of the supporting roles.

To its credit, Mockingjay II doesn’t hold back in its depiction of war crimes, and its final stages boast a moment that is genuinely shocking, both narratively and visually. None of the films that have followed the original have been able to match it – either in terms of story or performance – but the finale is not far behind. A fittingly bleak and violent conclusion to a compelling if overlong young adult franchise.

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