Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Francis Lawrence
"You never get off this train," says mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) to the new champions Katniss and Peeta in 'Catching Fire', the thrilling sequel to last year's 'Hunger Games'. This is bad news because Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) must continue the charade of being a couple before their country Panem, and also toe the line set by insidious dictator President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
'Catching Fire' picks up immediately after Katniss wins that death-defying championship with her bow and arrow in the earlier film. This is the middle movie, setting up the background for the next two films, and already we see that a revolution is stirring in Panem. Rebellious Katniss gives her people hope, and so an enraged President Snow wants her out of the way. Enter the new Gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (played enigmatically by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who introduces a twist in the 75th Hunger Games: Past winners from different districts will have to duel once again, in a fight for their lives. Gladiators, reality television, the Olympics, nasty dictatorships, and concentration camps; all these ideas get rolled into one compelling movie.
Director Francis Lawrence (replacing The Hunger Games' Gary Ross) is armed with a much tighter screenplay than the 2012 film, and sets up the sequel on a larger scale with greater challenges. In one genuinely tense scene, the tributes are forced to fight an army of snarling primates. 'Catching Fire' has more than a few gripping set-pieces, but its strength is its solid cast and the lasting impression they make. Stanley Tucci sparkles as the ebullient game show host Caesar, as does Elizabeth Banks as the heavily-costumed, yet caring PR-agent Effie. Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are seasoned actors who bring intriguing layers to their performances.
And still the heart of 'Catching Fire' remains the courageous, conflicted Katniss...and Jennifer Lawrence pours herself into the part. Torn between her men -- fellow winner Peeta, and the strapping Gale, played by Liam Hemsworth -- Katniss also faces the unenviable task of standing up to the formidable Snow. Lawrence gives a fierce performance, brilliantly balancing defiance and fear.
I'm going with three-and-a-half out of five for 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'. This sequel ends on a promising note, leaving you hungry for the next instalment.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
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