The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 review: Battle royale is a fitting conclusion in series
Last chapter of this dystopian saga serves up a bloody finale, with a breathtaking showing from Jennifer Lawrence, says Damon Smith
At a critical juncture in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, Woody Harrelson's grizzled mentor Haymitch Abernathy pays tribute to his battle-scarred protegee, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).
"I'll say this Katniss, you don't disappoint," he beams.
Similar praise could almost be lavished on the concluding chapter of the dystopian saga, based on the novels by Suzanne Collins.
This bruising battle royale remains faithful to the books and largely justifies the decision to cleave the final salvo in two a la Harry Potter and Twilight.
A nail-biting subterranean set piece, pitting the rebels against a horde of snarling creatures called mutts, is a thing of terrifying beauty reminiscent of Ellen Ripley's hellish encounters with aliens.
And Danny Strong and Peter Craig's muscular script doesn't shy away from the moral conundrum of conflict for a generation, whose childhood innocence has been stained with blood.
"It's war. Sometimes killing isn't personal," suggests one teenager, trying to make sense of the carnage.
If Mockingjay - Part 1 dragged its feet, trading glancing verbal blows between Katniss and Machiavellian warmonger President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the concluding salvo lands one devastating blow after another as simmering animosity ignites full-blown slaughter.
Without any fanfare, Part 2 opens on Katniss's anguished face as she recovers from a skirmish with brainwashed Hunger Games competitor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
The unified Districts are preparing for an assault on the Capitol and Katniss must lead the charge, guided by District 13's crusading President, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and lovestruck childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
Intelligence reveals that President Snow has planted booby traps known as pods around the ruined city in order to annihilate the rebels before they reach his fortified mansion.
Katniss, Peeta, Gale and other valiant allies, including Hunger Games victor Finnick (Sam Claflin), venture behind enemy lines to launch a covert strike on Snow. "He needs to see my eyes when I kill him," snarls Katniss.
However, casualties are high and the gung-ho heroine must watch as the people she loves, including her plucky sister Primrose (Willow Shields), risk everything in the name of liberty.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is a fitting and relentlessly grim conclusion, distinguished by breathless action sequences that recall the first film back in 2012, before leading lady Lawrence became an Oscar-winning powerhouse.
She delivers another emotionally wrought and beautifully measured performance, torn between Hutcherson and Hemsworth's rival suitors for Katniss's hardened heart.
Director Francis Lawrence signs off in downbeat style, but does make a couple of notable missteps.
The most gut-wrenching death in the book is an anti-climax on screen and a wistful yet melancholic coda might have been axed entirely by a braver filmmaker.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
(12A, 137 mins)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields. Director: Francis Lawrence.