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article imageReview: 'Catching Fire' adds spark to 'The Hunger Games' series Special

By Kristal Cooper     Nov 21, 2013 in Entertainment
The latest in the series based on the books by Suzanne Collins is one of those totally critic-proof movies. It has a built-in legion of fans who are probably lining up outside your local multiplex as I type, just chomping at the bit to cheer for Katniss.
In other words, it doesn't really matter whether The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a good, bad or just mediocre movie, it's going to do big business regardless. Thankfully, the team behind producing these films doesn't seem interested in coasting on their teen fan base, having very obviously taken note of the last film's shortfalls and worked hard to make Catching Fire a true crowdpleaser on all levels.
It helps that most audience members will already be fully informed about the world in which this story inhabits. The first film had the thankless task of explaining the very detailed District system and the reason for it as well as the annual reaping and what it meant for the citizens, all before any true forward plot momentum could happen. This made for a slow-moving and stagnant-feeling film that didn't do true justice to its rapidly-paced source material.
With Catching Fire, the action starts immediately. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are back in District 12, having to play at being in love for the sake of the victors' tour they're about to embark on.
The malevolent President Snow (Donald Sutherland, turning the creep factor up to 11), realizes that Katniss and Peeta gamed the system by pretending to be so in love that they'd rather commit suicide together than be forced to choose which one of them was to survive The Hunger Games. Their minor rebellion has fanned the flames of a major rebellion that's brewing in the districts and Professor Snow is scrambling to figure out a way to stop it from happening.
His scheming coincides nicely with the upcoming Quarter Quell, a celebration that marks each quarter century anniversary of the districts' defeat by The Capitol. When it's announced that this year's celebration will involve a reaping of only past Hunger Games victors, it becomes clear to Katniss that President Snow wants her dead and that she's going to have to work extra hard to ensure hers and Peeta's continued survival.
At almost 2 hours and 30 minutes, you'd think there'd be moments in Catching Fire that would drag or make you feel that running time in the seat of your pants. Credit goes to writers Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) for smartly keeping the atmosphere infused with tension, focusing more on the nefarious goings-on in the The Capitol and less on the tiresome triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
It's also important to note that Jennifer Lawrence proves once again how smart the producers were to cast her despite many fans' initial protests that she was too blonde and blue-eyed for the part. She's electric to watch in what could easily have been a one-note, tough girl performance. Her Katniss is strong yet vulnerable, nimble-minded but utterly flummoxed at how she's going to win against the Capitol a second time. It's heart-wrenching to watch her become increasingly broken and heart-warming to see her begin to come into her own as the potential leader of a rebellion.
Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) has created a film that's not only fun to watch, but also sets up the next film in the series (Mockingjay Part 1, which begins shooting in 2014) in a brilliant, can't-wait-to-see-it manner. There are just enough answers to satisfy while still leaving a few deliciously dangling plot threads and hints at a bloody war that's about to transpire.
It's rare that a sequel far surpasses its predecessor, but The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is very certainly far more searing in every way.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens on November 22, 2013 (with preview screenings on November 21st).
Follow Kristal Cooper on Twitter @mskristalcooper
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