In this overegged yet satisfying conclusion to the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s post-apocalyptic trilogy The Hunger Games, the body count is high, the tone at its darkest and most despairing, and nothing is sacred.

Stretched into two parts to prolong the benefits of a highly profitable franchise, Mockingjay 2 begins where Mockingjay 1 left off. As Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) grapples with the brainwashing that has twisted the mind of her reality games partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the rebels led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) prepares to attack the Capitol, the headquarters of the Panem dictatorship headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). A reluctant poster girl for a resistance movement about which she is beginning to have serious doubts, Katniss nevertheless jumps into battle and gets closer to her mission of killing Snow.

As she reaches Panem with a squad that includes her childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta, Katniss confronts a new battleground that is not very different from the one she left behind in the first two Hunger Games movies. She is still treated more as a symbol than a real person – the books and the movies are very astute about celebrity culture and the importance of propaganda – and her old survival instincts, nurtured in the jungles where she picked up her hunting skills as a child, come back into play.

More action and deeper political awareness

The final edition is busier and more action-packed than the previous movies, the last three of which have been expertly steered by Francis Lawrence. There are enough spectacular explosions and battle sequences to soften the movie’s deeply political concerns. The overall tone, though, remains as sober and grown-up as in the previous productions. The Hunger Games is the rare thinking Hollywood tentpole franchise that shelters a critique of capitalism, totalitarianism, war, exploitation of the working classes, and the use of information as a tool of control.

The movies are mostly faithful adaptations of Collins’s disturbing visions of the future, and the major changes are in the presentation of the dramatis personae. Katniss’s cynical and adolescent disdain for all kinds of authority has been replaced with an adult understanding of the way the world works. Key characters such as Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), who is the mentor to Katniss and Peeta, and Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), one of the designers of the televised reality show in which its teenaged participants fight each other to death, are depicted in a more humane light.

The franchise’s spearhead remains Katniss, played with well-judged wariness, intelligence and empathy by Jennifer Lawrence. The final edition sees Katniss finally resolve the doubts that crinkle her brow from the moment when we see her in the first movie, in which she saves her beloved sister Prim (Willow Shields) from being a participant in the brutal hunger games and then takes her first step towards her legendary status.

The decision to split Collins’s Mockingjay novel into two parts, however, waters down the impact of its revelations and results in several false endings. The extended climax tries to provide light touches to what has been a grave and troubling look at empire and war. The movies have measured out their moments of grace and levity in tea spoons. This has been the rare franchise without false hope and easy short-cuts. The soft-focus closing frames in a film whose favourite colour is grey suggest an ending that is unearned, and the relationship between Katnis and Peeta remains frustratingly underdeveloped.