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Jennifer Lawrence and 'The Hunger Games' deserved a better ending than 'Mockingjay -- Part 2'

'Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2' has Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, but no teen vs. teen games or energy.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2" is exactly what you would expect from its ungainly title, and that turns out to be not quite enough.

That's a bit sad because novelist Suzanne Collins' saga of resistance and rebellion in the totalitarian future state of Panem as led by redoubtable warrior Katniss Everdeen has been such a reliable staple of popular entertainment that it would be swell if the fourth and final film of the series ended things on a completely satisfying note.

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And in truth many of the same elements of the previous films are present here. Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth return for the fourth time as ace archer Everdeen and her pair of devoted swains, director Francis Lawrence is back for his third film, and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong mark this as their second effort. Even the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who appeared in two other films in the franchise, is seen briefly in the finale.

On the level of stunts and action, "Mockingjay — Part 2" has its share of briskly executed, efficiently done set pieces as the rebellion against that nasty President Snow (Donald Sutherland) edges closer and closer to the Capitol.

But what made the best of the "Hunger Games" movies so effective was the emotional connection its shrewd plotting created by combining a coming-of-age saga, romantic rivalry and broader concerns about violent spectacle used to manipulate public opinion.

In theory, all this should come to a head in this final film, but the aesthetically misguided idea of breaking the final book into two films, commercially remunerative though it might have been, has ended up making the dragged-out proceedings feel anti-climactic and emotionally static.

For one thing, "Part 2" has to cope, as "Part 1" did before it, with the absence of any actual Hunger Games action and the emotion those teen versus teen battles engendered is missed even more here.

More than that, key plot elements left to be determined, like Katniss' Betty or Veronica choice between longtime companion Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) and her Hunger Games partner, the charisma-challenged Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), have had so much screen time devoted to them in earlier films that the resolution is too inevitable to be involving.

Similarly, the unexpected twists "Mockingjay's" story throws at us as the conclusion nears had more effect — and more surprise — on the page than they manage on the screen, where key elements have been telegraphed more than they are in print. For the die-hard fans around the world who've already paid $2.3 billion at the box office to see the previous films, these quibbles will likely matter little or not at all compared with seeing the resolution they likely already know enacted by flesh-and-blood actors.

For the "Hunger Games" brain trust has clearly decided to pitch this last film to those most devoted to the franchise, with little attempt made to fill in the blanks for any late arrivals or those whose familiarity with the material is not encyclopedic.

So if "Part 1" ended on Page 177 of the book, with a brainwashed and delusional Peeta attempting to throttle Katniss (oh, the horror …), "Part 2" begins on the very next page, with Katniss trying to cope with her injuries. Even Saturday matinee cliffhanger serials, of which these films are in a sense the modern version, worked harder to bring generalists up to speed.

Once Katniss regains her health, she becomes focused on infiltrating the Capitol and speedily ending the life of President Snow, whose nefarious plan it was to turn Peeta against her.

But rival President Coin (Julianne Moore), the canny head of the opposition rebels, has other plans for the by-now-famous Mockingjay, the symbol of resistance to tyranny, and they do not include risking her neck in combat situations.

But Katniss being Katniss finds a way around that reluctance, if only a partial one. She, Gale, Finnick (Sam Claflin), the recovering but still unreliable Peeta and other folks form a kind of celebrity attack squad that is supposed to be used mainly for propaganda purposes.

Things don't go exactly as planned, however, and Katniss and company face numerous daunting obstacles, including booby traps created by the Capitol's games makers and a savage attack by genetically mutated lizard men who don't have a friendly bone in their body.

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While the other "Hunger Games" films had their static moments, they could always count on Lawrence's palpable passion for the part to energize the proceedings, a passion that is not conveyed as strongly this time around.

Because the two parts of "Mockingjay" were filmed back to back in a massive 152-day period, the film's overall lassitude may well be due to exhaustion as much as anything else. Whatever the cause, it's one of the reasons "Mockingjay — Part 2," earnest and acceptable though it is, doesn't end on the kind of high note it deserves.

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'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material

Running time: 2 hours, 17 minutes

Playing: In general release

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