Nov. 29--It's rare for a director to make a movie worthy of its source material.
While "The Hunger Games" film, based on the first novel in Suzanne Collins' trilogy, was good, the new film, "Catching Fire," captures the drama, politics and emotion of the series much better.
Figuratively and literally, the movie's heroine for the ages, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), once again catches fire, but in the sequel, she comes into her own as a worthy and powerful character and symbol of a revolution against an evil empire.
Lawrence dominates her scenes with her character's intense desire to protect her family, primarily her younger fragile sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), and her friends against the policies of Panem's hateful leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
The best part of the film is the first 80 minutes, which begins with Everdeen's return to her home with the quiet Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), with whom she had bonded to survive the 74th Hunger Games.
Everdeen is haunted because of the games. She also has not yet realized that because she and Mellark survived, Snow wants her either dead or neutralized as a revolutionary force.
Desperate to run from everything with her hunter friend, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), she first must tour each of the 12 districts with Peeta to address the masses and families of those teens who were killed.
She and Peeta are accompanied by their humorous, drunk and wily mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), and their elaborately dressed and stiff chaperone, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).
The tour is violent. Revolution is in the air, and Snow enlists his new master of games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to discredit Everdeeen.
When their effort fails, a 75th Hunger Games is created, which brings together previous winners from each of the 12 districts to begin a new game. This time, only one contestant can walk away.
The mental battle between Everdeen and Snow is brilliant. She is again dressed exquisitely and fiercely by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and interviewed by way over-the-top, glammy TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).
In one stunning (and wonderfully effective) scene, Everdeen twirls brilliantly as her white wedding dress burns into a black mockingjay outfit.
The pacing and settings of the battle scenes are more effective in the second film over the first, if for no other reason than the camera is on more solid ground.
"Catching Fire" is obviously building up to subsequent films, which will tell the story of a revolution. The second movie, like the first, ends abruptly. And, leaving the theater, it reminded me of what it felt like years ago when "The Empire Strikes Back" ended. Viewers, plain and simple, want closure.
They can look forward to the continued development of Lawrence's character. She is amazing in this second film, and it's good "Catching Fire" director Francis Lawrence is signed for the next two.
He paced the film well and employed drama, humor and action. Also impressive is the futuristic look of the Capitol, which viewers will be seeing more of.
Two tributes stand out, the overly confident Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and punkish Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone).
Hemsworth and Hutcherson don't have much to do as male leads, but Harrelson has become more of a commanding force in "Catching Fire," while Banks exhibits more straightforward humanity.
This film is as enjoyable as the second novel, and that's saying something.
'HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE'
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, based on Suzanne Collins' novel
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Philip Seymour Hoffman
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
Running time: 146 minutes
(c)2013 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)
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