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LOS ANGELES, Nov 17, (Agencies): The fourth and final film in the blockbuster “Hunger Games” series — a dystopian fantasy saga that turned Jennifer Lawrence into a Hollywood mega-star — hits the big screen this week and is expected to catch fire at the box office. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” will bring to a close one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood, which has already grossed more than $2.2 billion worldwide, according to Lionsgate, the studio that produced the films.
Based on a best-selling trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, the movies tell the story of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), the teenage heroine pitched into a deadly battle for survival in the macabre post-apocalyptic kingdom of Panem. Lawrence — who at 25 is already an Oscar winner and the world’s highest paid actress — recently told reporters in Los Angeles that she found it “bizarre” to be bidding farewell to the character that catapulted her to fame.
“I think it will be pretty bizarre when the movie is finally out and… everything is officially done,” said Lawrence, who took home a best actress Academy Award in 2013 for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.” “This movie has been my life for so many years.”
“Mockingjay — Part 2” opens in several countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East on Wednesday, and in the United States on Friday. After battling twice for her life in the “Hunger Games,” a reality TV-style fight to the death, Katniss is now leading rebel forces in a fight to destroy Panem’s totalitarian ruler President Snow.
Jeff Bock, of the box office tracker Exhibitor Relations, said he expects the movie to rake in $800 million worldwide — a massive figure but less than the $865 million earned by “Catching Fire,” the second and most successful film in the series so far. Hollywood veteran Donald Sutherland, who plays the tyrannical Snow, said he hopes “The Hunger Games” will give youngsters the world over hope for the future.
“The intent of this — for Suzanne Collins, for me, everyone actually who was involved in this project — is that it would be a catalyst for young people all over the world, everywhere,” Sutherland said at the film’s world premiere in Berlin earlier this month. “That they would see in it their doom, and the possibility for a decent future.” The premiere of the film in Los Angeles on Monday was scaled back in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, with no interviews scheduled after the screening.
“Out of respect for the very recent events in Paris, we have decided to modify our red carpet and we will not conduct interviews at Monday’s ‘Mockingjay 2’ premiere,” Lionsgate said in a statement. “We will proceed with the rest of the event as planned in honor of the incredible fans who have always supported our films with such passion.”
Parts of the final installment of the series were shot in Paris and Berlin. Also appearing in the final film are Lawrence’s co-stars from the start, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, as well as Oscar winner Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final screen role.
In the German capital this month, Lawrence said she was inspired by Katniss, known as the “Girl on Fire.” “She is kind, she is ruthless, she is independent-minded. She is strong but merciful,” Lawrence told reporters.
“I wish that I could have a percentage of her courage and thoughtfulness. She inspires me in every way.” “The Hunger Games” movies have unfolded in a relative blitzkrieg — four movies in four years — and in a fan-fueled fever that has masked some seriously silly political allegory with the thrill of survival games and the awesome star power of Jennifer Lawrence. In the final installation, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” the game is over.
Having left behind the “arena” — a wooded realm where teenagers from across the districts of the totalitarian Panem are set against each other in a televised kill-or-be-killed death match — at the conclusion of 2013’s “Catching Fire,” “Mockingjay” moves into a greater war, where Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the reluctant participant plucked out of the mining region of District 12, discovers a wider network of like-minded rebels.
In part two, the march toward the Capitol takes on an air of inevitable victory as the revolution, led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), contemplates power after the expected fall of the dictator Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Wary of replacing one corruption with another, an increasingly grave Katniss discovers the truth of that old maxim: revolution is easy; democracy is difficult; and stretching the thin conceits of “The Hunger Games” into four films is even harder.
The pop pleasures of the early installments (the best of which was “Catching Fire”) are gone in the gray-and-gloomy part two of “Mockingjay.” All the color and vibrancy of the series has been drained away; a sizable chunk of action takes place in the sewer as Katniss and a band of rebels, navigating various traps, stealthily storm toward Snow, with plans to assassinate him.
From the start, though, it’s clear “Mockingjay Part 2” is neither intended for critics nor newcomers. It’s for the fans of Suzanne Collins’ books, to which the franchise has slavishly sworn its fidelity. “Mockingjay Part 2,” directed by Francis Lawrence (who has helmed all but the first film) and penned by Danny Strong, Peter Craig and Collins, picks up where the last film left off, with barely a glance backward.
That, perhaps, is as it should be. “The Hunger Games” is for its passionate fans and — certainly in its final films — not anyone else. At the heart of the phenomenon is Collins’ clever rendering of passage into adulthood as survival through the (literal) slings and arrows of a cruel system that pits teenagers against one another in a competition that, for some, is barely more cutthroat than high school. Katniss’ ascent comes not through her mastery of the game, but her rejection of its rules.
That’s been somewhat true of the films, too, which have put a strong female protagonist at the heart of the franchise and surrounded her with only a limp love triangle (between Hemsworth’s Gale and Hutcherson’s Peeta, who was brainwashed in the last film) that’s always been secondary to Katniss’ plight.
Katniss does, though, have a curious habit of blacking out at key moments of battle. And in “Mockingjay Part 2,” she’s still fighting against being used as a public-relations pawn for the rebellion, just as she was for Snow’s regime. Unfortunately lacking much screen time are two of the most lively and gaudy characters of the films — Stanley Tucci’s master of ceremonies and Elizabeth Banks’ chaperone — who always gave things a kick.
Instead, the film is, well, dull. If Donald Sutherland is the most bubbly thing in your teenage sci-fi dystopia (and he is, by a mile), you may have stretched the seriousness too far.
Instead, a feeling of time passing “The Hunger Games” by pervades. What should have been one movie was stretched into two. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died nearly two years ago but remains here as the rebel leader Plutarch, is a ghostly, abbreviated presence. And Lawrence, still the magnetic center of the saga, can elevate the material only so much. Four years clearly wasn’t fast enough for “The Hunger Games.” Lawrence outgrew this stuff long ago.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of violence and action and for some thematic material.” Running time: 137 minutes. Two stars out of four.
The cast of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” may have stayed silent at the film’s US premiere but their support for the victims of the Paris terror attacks rang loud and clear Monday night.
Stars of the hit franchise, who recently cancelled all media interviews for the downtown LA event, wore Mockingjay ribbons adorned with the French flag as a tribute to the those killed in Friday’s attacks.
Lawrence was flanked by co-stars Hemsworth and Hutcherson on the red carpet, while Banks, arrelson, and the entire “Mockingjay” team were also seen with the red, white and blue emblems.
“Our hearts are with you France where we have so many amazing fans,” Banks tweeted.
Three days after the attacks, the premiere evoked strong emotions from Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer as he introduced “Mockingjay — Part 2” Monday night at the Microsoft Theater.
“I’d like to note the horrific events that occurred three days? ago in Paris,” he said. “We want to express our sympathy to the brave people of Paris. We stand with them tonight.”
The movie’s Parisian premiere took place Nov 9 and many scenes were shot in Paris. Feltheimer noted that the four “Hunger Games” films generated 3,700 hours of footage and 24 premieres.
He then introduced director Francis Lawrence, calling him “as down to earth as he is visionary” and noted that it was also the 16th birthday of his daughter ?Maya.
“Happy sweet 16,” Feltheimer added. Lawrence then introduced producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik, screenwriter Peter Craig and book author Suzanne Collins — stressing Collins’ “unflinching” narrative — before bringing up 17 cast members, ending with Jennifer Lawrence.
“You are the most talented and loving people that we could ever work with,” he concluded. Katniss Everdeen is certain to score a big sendoff when “The Hunger Games” franchise comes to a close this weekend. But just how massive a farewell is a matter of some debate.
Some tracking suggests that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” will launch to $120 million, which would be the weakest opening in franchise history. However, analysts expect that the film will hit $125 million or higher, putting it just above “Mockingjay — Part 1’s” $121.9 million bow, but below the first film’s $152.5 million opening and the second picture’s $158.1 million kick-off. If it falls anywhere inside the range of estimates, “Mockingjay — Part 2” will likely be the year’s fourth-biggest opening, behind “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Furious 7” — a sign of the impressive array of global blockbusters that have hit theaters in recent months.
In the past, Lionsgate’s stock has been battered when the “Hunger Games” sequels failed to match the loftiest projections, so there’s a reason for the studio to be cautious. Regardless of Wall Street’s reaction, box office prognosticators believe there’s a lot to celebrate.
“A lot has to be said for film that can open to more than $100 million with ease,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “I think this will be more like ‘Harry Potter’ where we see an uptick at the series’ end.”
Indeed, the last “Harry Potter” film scored a series-best opening of $169.2 million when it debuted in 2011, but it’s not clear if the fan enthusiasm for Katniss and crew is growing or has peaked.
A final theater count is still being determined, but “Mockingjay — Part 2” will premiere in roughly 4,000 screens. Unlike the first “Mockingjay,” this film will get an Imax release. Last year, the wide screens were being held for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” something that may have depressed ticket sales because it meant Lionsgate didn’t get the benefit of some premium ticket prices. It will not be released in 3D domestically.