‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Review: Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen Burns Brighter Than Ever (Video)

Jennifer Lawrence leads an impressive cast in a saga that’s smarter and more thrilling than its predecessor

It takes some guts to make a “Hunger Games” movie and then make the audience wait 80-plus minutes for said competition to get going, but “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” makes that gamble pay off brilliantly.

ID_D15_06219.dngThis second installment of the film series based on the novels by Suzanne Collins hits all the bases for a genre movie — whether you’re there for thrills, romance or even sociopolitical commentary, you’ll come away satisfied.

See photos: ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ World Premiere: Jennifer Lawrence Sparkles on the Red Carpet

Of course, second chapters have it easy since the first movie does all the heavy lifting of establishing the world and its inhabitants, but that’s not the only reason “Catching Fire” seems like a step up from the perfectly fine “The Hunger Games.” Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) takes over the directorial reins, with Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Michael deBruyn (a pseudonym for “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Toy Story 3” writer Michael Arndt) handling script duties, and what results is a film that keeps a multitude of thematic plates spinning.

See video: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson Are ‘a Distraction’ in New ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Clip

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are set to tour the districts as their victory lap for having won the 74th Hunger Games, even though the trip involves rubbing their win in the noses of the family and friends of the fallen contestants from the other sectors. The intimidating President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pays a personal visit to Katniss, reminding her that her for-show romance with Peeta is the only thing keeping the two of them alive, and that she had better step up their fake affection while in public.

What’s really bothering Snow is that Katniss has become a symbol of hope for the oppressed, and even when she’s sticking to the official script, her very presence becomes a beacon of revolt. In an attempt to keep her and her fellow champions in line, Snow and new games planner Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) put a twist into the 75th Hunger Games, using the every-25-years “Quarter-Quell” as an excuse to turn the existing victors into the pool of new contestants.

Also read: Jennifer Lawrence Lops Hair Off to Kick Off ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Press Tour

As District 12’s only female victor, Katniss is automatically selected, but Peeta steps up and volunteers in the place of boozy coach Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). Forced to train once again at the capitol, Katniss and Peeta find themselves facing off against an even deadlier crew of opponents — although, now that all the players have nothing to lose, what with their lives on the line a second time, the new Games could become the crucible for revolution against the oppressive state.

There are any number of readings available here, from Katniss and Peeta’s relationship mirroring generations of Hollywood stars (closeted and otherwise) with fake publicity marriages, to the oppression of the working classes by the greedy 1%, to the vagaries and dangers of instant fame, to bread and circuses, and “Catching Fire” allows viewers to dig into or avoid the metaphors as much as they want. On its face, we still have the compelling relationships — Katniss’ love for Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continues, although in the line of fire she discovers her feelings for Peeta aren’t entirely fictional — and a richer sense of characterization this time around.

See video: Jennifer Lawrence Doesn't Want to Lead a Revolution in First ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Clip

Either Elizabeth Banks’ bizarrely overdressed flack and Stanley Tucci’s unctuous TV host are being played more subtly, or real life is catching up to the absurdity of their characters, but they’re much more interesting to watch this time around. Lawrence, of course, grounds the film with her intensity and her passion, and Hutcherson and Willow Shields (as Primrose) get to be more complex and multi-dimensional this time as well.

Backing them up are several worthy new additions to the cast: besides Hoffman, we get Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen and Jena Malone as new competitors.

Some ideas get raised that, sadly, aren’t pursued — Katniss clearly has PTSD from her experiences in the previous Games, and Snow and Heavensbee hatch a plot to turn public sentiment against Katniss by basically turning her into a Kardashian — but at 146 minutes (which fly by), the movie has no dead spaces. Even this second go-round of the Hunger Games themselves feels excitingly different, with Heavensbee lobbing everything from poisonous fog to killer simians at the combatants.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” serves up food for thought and jolts of adrenaline in equal doses, which is more than most YA adaptations have managed to deliver. Dismiss it as a popcorn movie if you must, but at least they’ve bothered to serve it with real butter and truffle salt.

  • telast

    Looking forward to it:)

  • hupto

    Plutarch Heavensbee? Is she getting these names from Ernie Kovacs?

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      Plutarch was a Greek historian who wrote an essay called “Parallel Lives.” If you're not well read enough to detect symbolism, don't complain.

      • hupto

        I know who Plutarch was. It was a joke, not a complaint. My point is that names such as these belong in a comedy sketch, not a supposedly serious story about children killing each other.

        • Jack Bauer

          Get it right kids killing kids is only in the first movie. This is a very serious story about a young girl who leads a rebellion against an oppressive government.

          • hupto

            If this is “a very serious story about a young girl who leads a rebellion against an oppressive government,” then that's all the more reason not to use such silly names. You focus on the details and lose sight of the big picture.

          • Jack Bauer

            You completely miss the point the names are supposed to be stupid it is meant to show a negative dystopian society in the future the names of the people and the outfits they wear are meant to seem stupid reading the books would be much more beneficial to you then just blindly commenting on forums

          • hupto

            Your point is valid on a theoretical level, but you're giving this series too much credit. It's still just BATTLE ROYALE dumbed-down to give teenage girls a false sense of empowerment. But hey, whatever makes ‘em happy.

          • MirageRules

            Really you're using this retread of an argument. First it's obvious you haven't read the books, and have no idea what you're talking about. Next there is nothing truly original film, books, manga or comics anymore as stories have been down over and over again for decades that includes Battle Royal or haven't you heard of or read Lord of the Flies. All you can really hope for is a well written story or something unique and different.

            Now on to The Hunger Games novels. Suzanne Collins the author of The Hunger Games series has repeatedly said in interviews her inspiration for the novels were a few things that included stories from her fathers service in the Vietnam War, simple war coverage of the Iraq Invasion, Roman Gladiators, and The Greek myth of Theseus.

            Please know what you're talking about before you make ignorant statements just because you think it's another YA novel catering just to young girls. If you actually read the novels you'd find that The Hunger Games novels is quiet different than the majority of YA novels as it actually has meaning, and substance behind its words. Yes there is a sort of love triangle in the series and it is good, but it isn't the most overriding factor in the series like other YA novels.

            Read at least the first novel than you can comment about the novels, and even films.

          • Jack Bauer

            K after I trump you on the last point you go the most lame and predictable comment Hunger Games haters. Your whole point was about how stupid the names were and now after I trump you. You just run to the Battle Royale thing.

          • Jack Bauer

            Ok so ill take your changing the subject to the most predictable argument against Hunger Games that didn't resonate with anyone after the first film as confirmation that your conceding the original argument. Every one of your posts is about the names then as soon as I trump you on that you go to the Battle Royale thing. You will never win an argument about a book you haven't read with someone who has read it.

          • Jack Bauer

            Also if im overrating Hunger Games your definitely overrating Battle Royale ya the violence is more graphic but the theme is nowhere near as big the only theme of that movie is that it would be hard for kids to kill their friends… ah ya no shit that's not very thought provoking and doesn't inspire much discussion

          • hupto

            Good God, what is wrong with you people? I make a joke about a character name and it blows up into this entire diatribe about YA literature (and BTW, I never said I read the books). What a humorless bunch of dorks. Continue this harangue if you like but I'm hitting the trail.

          • Jack Bauer

            Good then we accomplished our goal

          • bubba2001

            Cool, I wonder if they'll have some “symbolism” of President Pantload as maybe he's attacked by thousands of young people?

          • Guest

            Im sorry I don't follow your post

    • Joe Velazquez

      Everyone's name in the series is based on Ancient Greece, since the whole series itself was inspired by gladiators.

      • Nightsong

        Ugh. There were nknotors or gladiatorial games in ancient Greece. You're thinking of ancient Rome, at least 500 years later. And Plutarch is known primarily as a historian. Parallel Lives was a work of nonfiction.

        For all the fangirls and fanboys knocking anyone as “not well read” for not having read the Collins genre books, it seems they are the ones who haven't been reading.

  • jojo

    I can't wait for this! Awsome post! Let's countdown to it http://www.tikr.me/the-hunger-games:-catching-fire/UiMKbVKPzz

  • Rod

    please duralde …suck me ….who pays you to write such tripe

    • Jack Bauer

      What is your disagreement you saw the movie right?

    • Rod's tiny “rod”

      Please, Rod — who pays you to be such a pissy little ANONYMOUS bitch?

  • bubba2001

    When I saw the movie I thought they were saying “Katnip.”

    • z20

      Gale is the only one who calls her Catnip, everyone else calls her Katniss, both in the books and the movies

  • lava

    I´m so happy you mentioned the PTSD! It´s such an important aspect of the books, yet so subtle, so glad it will be addressed in the movie, cause the third book is all PTSD and I can´t wait to see how it will translate into the final two instalments, and hopefully it is a kind of build up for the final movie.