Very much Hollywood’s girl on fire, Jennifer Lawrence returns as renegade warrior Katniss Everdeen in the second Hunger Games instalment.
The first film ended with her gutsy underdog heroine emerging victorious from the televised gladiatorial contest dreamt up by the rulers of Panem, author Suzanne Collins’ future American dystopia, as a means of keeping the downtrodden masses in check.
Yet the spoils of victory are hardly sweet for Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow survivor from hardscrabble District 12, as they embark on a propaganda tour of the other districts at the behest of Panem’s silkily ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
But the dictator’s ploy backfires. Departing from the script, the glumly defiant Katniss proves a beacon of resistance for the country’s subjugated population, prompting Snow to hatch a new scheme to snuff out any rebellious flames – a so-called Quarter Quell that will pit 24 previous victors against each other in another fight to the death.
Just as there is a new gamemaker in charge of the ensuing bloodfest – Philip Seymour Hoffman’s slyly Machiavellian Plutarch Huckerbee – so there is a new director at the helm of Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Replacing Gary Ross, Austrian-born music-video veteran Francis Lawrence faces a similar problem to Plutarch: how to engage returning viewers and stop the games turning into a rehash of the previous contest. He brings to the task a keen eye for spectacle and a bigger budget ($130million as opposed to the first film’s $78million), and gets a lift from a gallery of fresh faces, principally Katniss’s new rivals, of whom hunky Sam Claflin, ferocious Jena Malone and wily Jeffery Wright and Amanda Plummer make the biggest impression.
There are vivid, turns, too, from such familiar figures as Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant talkshow host Caesar Flickerman, Elizabeth Banks’s brittle Panem fashionista Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson’s boozy mentor Haymitch Abernathy.
But by far the film’s greatest asset is Lawrence, who again brings absolute emotional conviction to her haunted and conflicted heroine. With one volume (and two films) to go, Catching Fire inevitably leaves the viewer dangling at the close, but the two Lawrences and their cohorts have done more than enough to leave us hungry for more.
Certificate 12. Runtime 146 mins. Director Francis Lawrence.
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