Susan Granger's review of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Jennifer Lawrence returns as heroic Katniss Everdeen in the second installment of Suzanne Collins' dystopian trilogy -- one that resonates even darker and more dramatic than the first.
After winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) leave family and friends for a "Victor's Tour" of the oppressed, underprivileged districts. But first Katniss must face District 12 suitor Gale (Liam Hemsworth) now that she's supposed to be romantically involved with Peeta. It's a fictional liaison fostered in the Capitol by ruthlessly diabolical President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who -- along with wily games maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) -- is planning the next survival-of-the-fittest TV reality show, The Quarter Quell, which will bring together former Victors in gladiator competition, as the seeds of subversion and rebellion are sprouting throughout Panem.
"Last year was child's play," warns Katniss' manipulative mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).
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Adapted by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn, it's adroitly directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), who adheres to the central themes of loyalty, trust and betrayal, while developing complex emotional relationships and maintaining the resonant political undercurrent and exploitative tension of the suspenseful jungle games, which involve a rotating rock island, rabid monkeys, attack birds, blood rain and a rolling fog of poison gas.
Oscar winner for "Silver Linings Playbook," Jennifer Lawrence once again embodies fiery, ferocious, fatalistic Katniss, the outspoken, revolutionary warrior whose weapon of choice is the bow and arrow. There's also meaty, masterful support from Elizabeth Banks as PR-maven Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz as designer Cinna and Stanley Tucci as TV host Caesar Flickerman, along with newcomers Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and Jena Malone. And great credit goes to Capitol Couture's Trish Summerville for inventive, elaborate costumes.
The final book "Mockingjay" will be divided into two parts, the first scheduled for release next November.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is an exciting, engaging, escapist 8 -- a spectacular sequel that should satisfy fans of the book as well as the 2012 blockbuster.