Teen killing machine Katniss Everdeen is riding a giant pneumatic tube back into the arena this weekend as "Catching Fire," the second installment of the ridiculously popular "Hunger Games" saga, finally blazes into theaters across the United States. The first movie in the franchise opened to generally positive reviews last March, but with "I Am Legend" director Francis Lawrence replacing Gary Ross behind the camera, will the Rotten Tomatoes score be ever in the sequel's favor?
As fans of Suzanne Collins' novels are well aware, "Catching Fire" finds the pride of District 12 haunted by the horrors she both witnessed and contributed to in the 74th Hunger Games. As if that weren't enough for young Katniss (newly anointed Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence), she's also burdened by the first sparks of a revolution against the oppressive President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and caught smack dab in the middle of a love triangle between her childhood sweetheart (Gale Hawthorne) and fellow Hunger Games survivor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Of course, when Katniss learns of a sinister new twist to this year's battle royale, the Quarter Quell, she's forced to put all of that aside and fight for her life once more.
Read on for a sampling of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" reviews.
Katniss Is Growing Up with Growing Pains
"Once the action gets underway, Francis Lawrence demonstrates a welcome eye for steady-handed action coverage that alone elevates this film above its predecessor. For all this talk of fire, much of the new arena heavily involves water more than any other element, the recurring motif eventually evoking strong baptismal imagery (not to mention an off-screen rain of blood). The fact that an attack by a pack of angry monkeys feels intense rather than laughable in the wake of the first film's rabid dog creatures marks a due amount of commitment from the main players and effects teams alike. Despite new writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt adapting Collins' second novel, 'Catching Fire' is still frustratingly beholden to a structure identical to the first film." -- William Goss, Film.com.
Respect the JLaw of the Land
"Jennifer Lawrence, of course, is the real draw. Female role models come and go, and Lawrence's Katniss is one of the better ones. Katniss is clearly a Champion of the People, but there's no sanctimony or pretense of false modesty in the way Lawrence plays her. She gives the appearance of listening more than she talks, the opposite of what we usually get from today's feisty heroines. Somehow, Lawrence -- even though her character is a proactive Diana the Huntress -- makes thinking look more dynamic than reacting. Her eyes say lots of things: 'Get over yourself;' 'I'm not buying this;' and 'OK, show me.' But sometimes they also say, 'I don't know what I want.' Which guy, which path, which life? Lawrence is a movie star who's still believable as a girl. She's both on fire and in the process of becoming, and it's magnificent to watch. -- Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice
The Divine Success of the YA Sisterhood
"Easily the most sophisticated and thoughtful franchise film of 2013, Lawrence's adaptation of the second novel in Suzanne Collins' young adult series is all-things-to-all-people entertainment, a follow-up that intensifies the first film's thrills while simultaneously developing its characters and, even more crucially, expanding its themes. The rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor, 'Catching Fire' tackles head-on the repercussions of the events of 'The Hunger Games,' deepening Collins' cinematic mythology even as it proves that teen-lit is more than capable of tackling complex ideas." -- Todd Gilchrist, The Playlist.
One Lawrence Isn't Cool. You Know What's Cool? TWO Lawrences
"Beyond the heightened story and performances, though, the whole hulking endeavor just looks and moves better than its predecessor, thanks to incoming director Francis Lawrence taking over for 'Hunger Games' director Gary Ross. Lawrence made his name as the director of numerous high-profile, high-budgeted music videos and commercials, which might appear to be a good training ground for wrangling this high-profile, high-budgeted franchise. While a certain amount of bloat is unavoidable in a movie so beholden to fan expectations and blockbuster convention, Lawrence exhibits a simultaneous talent for fleetness and compression in dealing with the film's many moving parts." -- Genevieve Koski, The Dissolve.
The Arena Is Wrong, But Jeffrey Is Wright
"Even when the rote action sequences inevitably take over -- these bigger, badder Hunger Games now come with poison fog and killer CGI monkeys! -- the film still makes room for some slyly humorous supporting work by Jena Malone as an ax-wielding cynic, and Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as scatterbrained science whizzes. A 'Matrix Reloaded'-like cliffhanger reminds that this is only the second installment out of four (good lord), but at least the flick leaves us with more than a tinge of interest in whom the odds will favor next." -- Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York.