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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is the fourth and final installment in the adaptation of Suzanne Collins' critically and commercially acclaimed trilogy. Like most final films in a book-based franchise, expect even fans who didn't catch the first Mockingjay to want to see how the filmmakers wrap up the story. Be prepared for intense and upsetting violence revolving around Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and company's revolution against the Capitol, including explosions, shoot-outs, several emotional death scenes, and one extremely tense sequence/jump-scare involving the scary creatures known as Mutts. Amid all the action and violence are a few moments of tenderness and romance, but nothing beyond a couple of sweet kisses. As with the first Mockingjay, this film is also full of potential conversation starters about the role of media during conflict, the role of revolutionaries as symbols (rather than actual people), and how extremes on either side of a political spectrum can be equally dangerous.
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What's the story?
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 2 picks up shortly after a Capitol-brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) violently attacks Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). Convinced that Peeta will never return to normal (he continues to show violent tendencies), a bruised Katniss asks President Coin (Julianne Moore) to deploy her for the good of the rebellion. After being shot by a Capitol loyalist in District 2, Katniss decides that her number-one mission must be to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and put an end to the cycle of violence. So she and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) join a special ops team that includes Finnick (Sam Claflin), propaganda director Cressida (Natalie Dormer), and a fragile Peeta, who's still recovering. The team enters the Capitol, which Snow has filled with horrors straight out of the Hunger Games Arena. Every few steps, the team contends with new atrocities meant to kill them. All the while, Katniss must deal with uncomfortable truths about both enemies and allies, as well as figure out whether she has a future with either Gale or Peeta.
Is it any good?
Thanks to director Francis Lawrence and, above all, star Jennifer Lawrence, this final film is a fitting tribute to Suzanne Collins' unforgettable heroine. It even improves on some of the book's weaker elements; Lawrence the director knows how to use Lawrence the actor's vulnerability to explore what a messy thing indeed it is to be a hero -- to be the Chosen One, to know you're somehow more useful as a martyr to the cause than as a very real, confused, emotional girl. The Katniss of Mockingjay isn't as singularly focused as the one in the Arena. This Katniss is sure of very little other than that Snow must go, and Lawrence beautifully captures the excruciating pain of Katniss' journey, of her loneliness and heartbreak and fierce devotion to those she loves.
Very few book series have received such a faithful, fabulously performed, and visually appealing set of cinematic adaptations. That's not to say that the film is perfect: It fast-forwards a few dramatic elements that some book fans will no doubt miss, like the blossoming friendship between Katniss and Johanna (Jena Malone) that gets compressed into a couple of conversations, or the strength of Katniss' platonic feelings for fellow Hunger Games victor Finnick, whose marriage to Annie (Stef Dawson) is similarly glossed over in one quick scene. But otherwise, the director and screenwriter keep the pace brisk, even as it seems like one long, deadly obstacle course to Katniss' inevitable showdown with Snow. At one point, Katniss asks someone why he's helping her, and he replies that she's earned a long and peaceful life. After four films of Lawrence playing Katniss, who wouldn't agree?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Mockingjay's political themes. Why does Katniss continue to question President Coin? Why does President Snow say that Coin will just be the new version of him? Does the movie offer any hopeful messages about politics or just cynicism?
How does the violence in this installment compare to the previous ones? What's the impact of media violence on kids? Gale tells Katniss that war isn't personal, but she replies that it is. What do they each mean?
How important is romance to Katniss' story? To some fans, the love story is central, while to others it's unimportant. How did you feel about it?
Those who are familiar with the books: What did you think of the changes the director and screenwriter made? Overall, how did this installment stack up against the others?
- In theaters: November 20, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: March 22, 2016
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson
- Director: Francis Lawrence
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material
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