With the spectacular The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the best in the series, Jennifer Lawrence closes out the franchise that made her the biggest star of her generation. Since The Hunger Games started in 2012, she's starred in four of them and only six of everything else. Luckily, those other films took her to the Academy Awards twice, which makes the 25-year-old the face of Hollywood's two career tracks: blockbuster royalty and the prestige nominee. But with the franchise's powerful climax, Lawrence has managed to align her parallel Hollywood lives and reinvent the prestigious popcorn flick, a crowd-pleaser with intelligent class.
The series is no longer primarily interested in just one girl's survival — and, thankfully, it's barely engaged with the love triangle that author Suzanne Collins had to flog to keep fans interested until she reached her real goal: Mockingjay's large, cynical questions about sacrifice and success. (Which, in book form, were almost too dense -- the filmmakers were right to divide the last volume in two.) In the first Hunger Games film, we were simply meant to care whether Katniss Everdeen won. Three movies later, as Katniss helps Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) defeat the Capitol and destroy President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the series has become about how horrible it can be to win. It sticks us in that brutal stretch of a war where everyone knows the imminent outcome, but half will have to die to accomplish it. In victory, Katniss's friends aren't much better than her foes. In her name, rebels cheer the Snow-allied District 2's civilian dead just as TV audiences once cheered the Hunger Games arena. "Sometimes killing isn't personal," advises heartthrob Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss is aghast. Isn't that even worse?