By Laurie Coker

Rating: B+

Cliff hangers make viewers come back and monetarily, for filmmakers and networks, they make bank. Splitting a novel adaptation into two different films (like the final Harry Potter) makes sense, because it makes money, but to fans a year gap annoys more than it excites. The latest installment of the Hunger Games Trilogy hits theatres with fanatical buzz and monumental expectations. With director Francis Lawrence behind the camera, we get the visually impressive, mostly exciting continuation of the Katniss saga.

Katniss returns, but other tributes, including Peeta, are not. Districts are forced underground and outside the Capital everything lies in ruin. President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her counsel, Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) need a hero, a voice for the rebels to stand up against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and win back their lives.

I had opportunity to speak briefly to Francis Lawrence about Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1, but he wouldn’t tell me much about the next installment, try as I might. Still, I did learn he is just “editing part two now,” and that filming took place mostly in Atlanta. I asked his about the most difficult scene in part one to film and he pointed to the tribute rescue scene because of so many “balls in the air” at once, involving the rescue, Katniss and Snow and a delay tactic with Finnick (Sam Calflin). It’s true to that this scene is one of the most intense aspects in the film. On that note, action In Mockingjay is limited and longer than necessary, superfluous sequences drag on, but even those provide amazing imagery – a foreign world recognized vividly.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss is the focal point of this film, like the others, but she is different in this one. Katniss seems a little broken, hesitant, but Lawrence does this well too, until her strength and power come through – her love for Peeta drives her. Lawrence looks younger and more vulnerable, but also passionate, beautiful and powerful given the need and scene. Other familiar faces join Lawrence again and it feels a bit like coming home, but with explosions and rubble. Elizabeth Banks is notably droll and even in prison-like gray frocks and head wraps, she brings color and light to every scene she inhabits. Seeing Seymour Hoffman brings a lump to the throat, but it’s good too – to see him so animated. The cast delights on every front.

Lawrence’s imagery exceeded my expectations. Marvels of amazing flying vessels, districts in ruin and underground fortresses bring the famed novels to vivid realism once again and his keen eye for detail demonstrate his passion for the films, as did he in the interview where he agreed that when this all ends, he will miss his Hunger Games family. I think we all will. I am placing a B+ in my grade book. I felt frustrated by unnecessarily long scenes and limited action. I would like to have seen a lengthier more intense final film, than two separated by a year. The final scene does have us teetering on the edge of a cliff overlooking a deep abyss.

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