Second movies in a series can be such a comfort: We already know the key characters, we have a sense of where the plot is going, we just have to hang on and enjoy the thrills. Which is what happens with
An effective piece of melodramatic popular entertainment that savvily builds on the foundation established by the first "Hunger Games" movie, "Catching Fire" layers in increased visual brio while remaining faithful to the essence of a trilogy popular enough to have more than 50 million copies in print.
That brio comes courtesy of director
That expansion is necessary because there is more at stake than ever in the world of Katniss Everdeen (
Lawrence's intertwined strength and vulnerability as Katniss were the sine qua non of the first film, and she is the sequel's biggest asset as well. Now an Oscar winner for
Two capable screenwriters have adapted the
For what Collins adroitly did was place a kind of High School Confidential in very particular circumstances. Katniss, the very picture of self-sufficiency, can't make up her mind between two very different, very cute guys vying for her affections: old flame Gale (
Also very appealing to the intended demographic are two key aspects of Katniss' personality. On the one hand there's her youthful idealism: Katniss burns with fury at the depredations of Panem's ruling class, epitomized by the oily, manipulative President Snow (
"Catching Fire" begins with Katniss and Peeta scheduled to start on a Victory Tour of all of Panem's districts to celebrate their joint Hunger Games triumph. This despite the fact that the aftereffects of their romantic deception has put both of them into very bad moods.
Katniss' mood is not elevated by a visit from President Snow. No fool he, Snow is hip to her deal, he knows that she and Peeta are far from lovebirds. But because Katniss' willingness to take poison in the games has been viewed by some as an act of defiance rather than undying love, he insists that she intensify her fake passion for Peeta or face the extermination of everyone she loves. This guy is no fun at all.
But the country does not quiet down, and Panem's devious new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (
This new round of games allows for the return of key protagonists from the first film, including
The success of the first film has also enabled the hiring of strong actors for new characters. Besides Hoffman, these include
Also new is the input of costume designer Trish Summerville, who has upped the ante on clothing outrageousness, for instance putting Effie in an
'Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
Running time: 2 hours, 26 minutes
Playing: In general release