THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PARTS 1 AND 2 make a stellar finale to this epic story.

I was quite unprepared for how much THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 would knock me for six when I saw it. But it did. I thought it was astonishing.

When I watched THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 in November 2014, even though I admired it, I felt the film was very much half of a whole and so thought I’d wait a year to see the second part and then try to do both parts justice in a review. So let’s give it go.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in The Hunger Games - Mockingjay part 1

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss

From the opening moments in MOCKINGJAY – PART 1, it’s evident there’s a very different tone from the first two movies – things are tougher, even greyer, more sombre. Gone is the garishness of the Capitol and its colourful cast of characters that created the cruel counterpoint to the struggles of the citizens of Panem. We find Katniss in the thought-to-be destroyed District 13, having nightmares of her terrifying experiences in the 74th Games and then the Quarter Quell. Her fellow survivor Finnick (Sam Claflin) is suffering from PTSD and the fallout of the Games effect on its unfortunate victims is once again brought chillingly home.

Friendly faces such as Gale (Liam Hemsworth), other survivor Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), stylist Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and former Gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) all have little or no effect on Katniss and it’s only when she meets the formidable President Coin (a smooth Julianne Moore) who not only commends her bravery in the Games but requests that Katniss begins to fully become the Mockingjay figurehead of the burgeoning rebellion, that things take a turn.

What you’re reminded of in this film is what drives this enormous story; something wonderfully small but incredibly significant – the connection between Katniss and her fellow tribute Peeta Mullark (the terrific Josh Hutcherson). And Peeta has been left in the Capitol and is now a brainwashed prisoner of the corrupt President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss reluctantly agrees to be the Mockingjay for Coin, even filming propaganda movies to incite rebellion in the other districts and witnessing further horrors by the Capitol’s troops, if it means getting the chance to rescue Peeta. But be careful what you wish for, because when he is finally reunited with Katniss, all Peeta can think of is killing her. The two Games sweethearts who we fell for, now become potential enemies. How much darker can Suzanne Collins’ tale get?

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss takes one final shot in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - part 2; photograph: forbes.com

Katniss takes one final shot

Pretty dark actually, as MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 begins that inevitable journey towards the end with you realising that not everyone you’ve come to know over the course of these previous chapters will probably survive. It’s to director Francis Lawrence’s credit, that he makes each loss profound, whilst continuing to dazzle us with the scope and scale of these last 2 films. The war-torn scenes in the outlying districts are reminiscent of any footage we see on the news and you really feel he’s brought Collins’ immensely unsettling dystopian fable to life without ever losing touch with our world. Bravo.

But there is light at the end of this story – there has to be – after all these young people (and us) have gone through and the only even sadder coda before we get there is that this turned out to be the great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last role, as he died during filming. In both movies, his scenes with Moore are a highlight, the two of them effortlessly playing off each other and giving the dynamic between Coin and Plutarch a real edge. And a scene that he would have filmed, is deftly turned into a letter from Plutarch to Katniss and superbly written by screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Woody Harrelson, another of the highlights of this series, reads it so superbly too so you can almost hear Hoffman’s unique voice. A fitting tribute.

Finally, as has been the case throughout this epic story, without omitting the contribution of surely one of the very best supporting casts in recent memory, is Jennifer Lawrence. She is just wow. The most exciting actress to emerge in movies over the past few years I think, whose career after THE HUNGER GAMES became a phenomenon went stratospheric. I’d been lucky enough to see Lawrence not long before that was released in her first screen lead, Debra Granik’s superb Ozark mountain drama Winter’s Bone, which already signalled to the film-going world there was a new, completely charismatic screen presence in town.

How one of the head honchos at Lionsgate, the studio who owns the rights to Suzanne Collins’ books, can say after the release (and success) of MOCKINGJAY – PART 2, that they are already looking to do more Katniss Everdeen movies (prequels were mentioned), seems quite crazy. Lawrence would doubtfully be in them and they’d be nothing without her. I couldn’t see anyone else playing this singular heroine with the power, grace and intelligence that she brings to the character. Why don’t we just enjoy these stellar movies and her brilliance in them and leave it at that? Some stories have a beginning and an end and this is one of them. If that’s how this plays out then the odds are forever in our favour.