Three years after launching Jennifer Lawrence to superstardom and sparking a craze for young-adult stories set in violent dystopias, "The Hunger Games" comes to an end this week with "Mockingjay - Part 2." Like Lawrence's reluctant heroine, Katniss Everdeen, this franchise has been feeling overtaxed, groaning under the pressure to deliver on the promise of Suzanne Collins' acclaimed novels and the well-received first film in 2012. With "Mockingjay - Part 2," the once-energetic series crawls to a finish.
It isn't Lawrence's fault. Her Katniss still has the steel spine and survivors' instincts that endeared her to us when she first won The Hunger Games, a blood sport staged by the despotic President Snow (Donald Sutherland, delectably evil as ever). As the series progressed, however, Katniss devolved from a futuristic Diana -- a regal warrior with a lethal bow and arrow -- to a pouty, put-upon figure, constantly bemoaning her burden as the poster-child for a rebellion led by Alma Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee (Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both very fine). Almost as compensation, Katniss is rewarded with two moony-eyed suitors, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
All that waffling-heart business, so reminiscent of "Twilight," was never convincing, partly because it undermines Katniss' strong personality and partly because of Hutcherson's low-energy presence. The romance grates more than ever here because there's so little else happening. Katniss leads a squad of rebels to assassinate President Snow -- "He needs to see my eyes when I kill him" -- and so the movie is mostly a series of marches, battles and lulls, all staged with a perfunctory feel by director Francis Lawrence.
"Mockingjay - Part 2" deserves credit for incorporating real-world themes like media manipulation, terrorism and power vacuums, but its somber-faced, hand-wringing treatment can be tough to take seriously. It's the wrong tone for a series that, at bottom, is still just an entertaining spectacle -- and this movie isn't nearly entertaining enough.
The end of an era may have just begun. The dystopian franchises "Divergent" and "The Maze Runner" are both set to wrap up in 2017, and there are no other obvious players in that game. Speaking of power vacuums: "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens," another female-led science-fiction film, arrives next month with impeccable timing.