"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
2 1/2 stars
By Jake Coyle, AP Film Writer
A considerable upgrade over the first "Hunger Games" movie,
"Catching Fire" comes across more like a remake than a
In the adaptation of the second installation in Suzanne Collins'
young adult trilogy, there's certainly plenty that has changed.
Rebellion against the totalitarian rule of President Snow (Donald
Sutherland) in the 12 districts of Panem is growing. Katniss
Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is now a beloved hero with the weight
of celebrity on her shoulders. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, bless
him, has found his way into the proceedings.
Yet the general plot - a journey from Katniss' poor hometown of
District 12 to a climactic game of human hunting in "the arena,"
with high-speed train rides and training sessions in between - is
identical to the first "Hunger Games."
There's an ironic satire of modern celebrity somewhere in
"Catching Fire." Katniss has become famous only to find it a trap.
As her Hunger Games coach Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) says, "You
never get off this train."
Lawrence isn't so different. "The Hunger Games," along with her
more interesting work in "Winter's Bone" and "Silver Linings
Playbook," has made her an enormous star. She is quite literally
"the girl on fire," as Katniss is nicknamed.
When she's trotted out with co-winner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, who
seems about half the height of the screen-dominating Lawrence) on a
victory tour of the 12 districts to "feed the monster" - that is,
to distract the masses with their tabloid romance - one can't help
but see "The Hunger Games" as the same kind of diversion. It's
dystopia-lite: a bloody tale of oppression watered down for a PG-13
The most pleasing moment in "Catching Fire" comes when these other
former Victors - a motley crew of veteran warriors - is introduced.
Among the bone-crushing murder professionals is, of all people,
Jeffrey Wright. He proves a cunning brainiac.
Back are Elizabeth Banks (as the Capitol escort Effie), Lenny
Kravitz (as Katniss' pyrotechnic stylist) and, easily the high
point of both movies, Stanley Tucci as the campy broadcast emcee
Caesar. Among the newcomers, Sam Claflin, as the arrogant Hunger
Games veteran Finnick Odair, has a mischievous charm.
But "Catching Fire" is, to be sure, Lawrence's show. The
exaggerated world of "The Hunger Games," with its cartoonish
decadents, teenage Roman gladiators and theatrical allegory, would
overwhelm most young actors. But Lawrence (convincingly tormented
in this film) has a calm sincerity and steely determinism that cuts
through it all. Katniss' rise is hers, too.