The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Tight plotting and great performances make for a strong sequel
The first Hunger Games movie – with its substantial story and tenebrous thrills – had much more than tween-appeal. Yet things looked ominous for the sequel after Gary Ross, who helmed the first picture with such sensitivity and style, was replaced by Francis Lawrence, a director whose CV doesn't inspire confidence (Constantine, I Am Legend, Water for Elephants). Ross' keener eye is missed but the sequel lives up to its incendiary subtitle due to the quality of the material and the passion of its performers.
The film opens where the last one left off, as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, fresh from Oscar success in Silver Linings Playbook) and fellow Hunger Games victor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) emerge from their ordeal to take a winners' tour of the Panem districts. Increasingly seen as revolutionaries, their initial desire to connect with the masses is suppressed by a fear of the consequences for their loved ones.
Fearing an uprising, and with the assistance of new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (an unsettlingly enigmatic Philip Seymour Hoffman), dastardly dictator President Snow (Donald Sutherland) introduces a special 75th-anniversary games – featuring contestants plucked from past winners, devised to discredit and destroy the former champions.
Once again there's plenty of visual and narrative variety as the story moves seamlessly between the impoverished districts, the ostentatious capital and the murderous machinations of the games, this time featuring increased threat from the environs themselves.
Catching Fire is consistently exciting and superbly performed, with a credible screenplay from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). As with the first adaptation, this satisfies as a tightly plotted, thought-provoking individual instalment – however, following in the missteps of other franchises, it's been announced that the trilogy's closer, Mockingjay, will be split into two films. For now, at least, the series continues to burn bright.
General release from Thu 21 Nov.