MRR Review: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

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The second installment in the Hunger Games' trilogy, based on Suzanne Collins' novel of the same name. Embarking on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) senses that a rebellion is simmering. However the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) prepares for the Quarter Quell - a competition that could change Panem forever.
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MRR Review: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language)
Length: 146 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is fresh off her win in the Hunger Games, celebrating her victory along with fellow winner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." She is a very busy and popular girl, even unwittingly becoming the poster girl for a quietly-brewing revolution that the politicians in the Capital have recently become aware of. They consider her to be a threat, especially President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who commands game rigger Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to get rid of her before the revolution takes root.

Heavensbee aims to rig the Quarter Quell, an anniversary version of the annual Hunger Games that pits past winners against each other. Poor Katniss and Peeta have barely had time to catch their breath before they are back in training and going through all the hoopla surrounding the Games. This time, the Capital knows her abilities and won't underestimate her like they did last time, which puts her at a distinct disadvantage. She also has to compete in an arena that has been custom outfitted to Heavensbee's request, which puts her in even more peril.

She quietly forges uneasy and sometimes tenuous alliances with a few past winners such as Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), a cocky man who is very popular among the ladies of Panem. Then there is the one very unlikely ally that she doesn't realize she has in Heavensbee, but by the time she realizes he might be on her side, she is already competing for her life in the Quarter Quell. She uses her trusty bow and arrows to make quick work of some of her fellow competitors, but the biggest challenge may come from within, as her pragmatism and empathy make way for her survival instincts. It's a tense, thrilling conclusion that leaves the door wide open for the next sequel in the series.

Most moviegoers can count on one hand the number of sequels that are actually better than the original. "The Godfather: Part II" is the most obvious example on an exceedingly short list of films. That list can finally get another entry with "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and a very worthy one at that. This isn't to say that "The Hunger Games" was not a good film; on the contrary, it was a highly entertaining film filled with visual and cerebral delights. It's just that this film, the first of three planned sequels, is better because it builds upon what the initial film established so well. "The Hunger Games" did a lot of world building and character development, and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is basically the fruit of all that labor. The characters act in a way that the audience expects based on their actions in the first film. Better yet, the characters grow, further developing to the point that even the most cynical of viewers will want to root for Katniss and crew.

Lawrence did a fantastic job the first time around, but here she knocks it out of the park as Katniss. This is a girl who went from relative obscurity and near starvation to fame after winning the previous film's Hunger Games. It's a lot to handle all at once, and certainly isn't easy to portray for even a seasoned actor. Lawrence continues to demonstrate why she deserves her Oscar win by displaying the softer, more vulnerable side of Katniss while still making her steely and resolute. She is about to face down death again, only this time the odds are purposely stacked against her. She shows some fear while also showing why she is a hero, and all of this is thanks to Lawrence's layered and knowing performance.

Director Francis Lawrence had what looked like a thankless job in trying to tackle this sequel after original director Gary Ross dropped out. With the mega-success of the original and so much anticipation for the second entry, there was a ton of pressure to deliver. He delivers in spades, making what is easily the best film of his career so far. He has a great visual flair that he has slowly been developing over his last few film projects, which will likely only get better as he directs the next two films in the franchise. In fact, fans of the books should be happy that he is tackling the final book in the trilogy, dividing it into two films that will be just as hotly-anticipated as this one. It bodes very well for the future of "The Hunger Games" franchise.

Rating: 4 out of 5