The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Just as the victorious bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss Everdeen has outgrown the dystopian futuristic population pacifying ‘Hunger Games’ by the start of this first of three sequels, so really has actress Jennifer Lawrence, who became a star because of The Hunger Games and an Academy Award-winner thanks to Silver Linings Playbook.

Lawrence’s successful crossover from tween cover girl to credible adult screen presence, where Twilight’s Kristen Stewart stumbled, makes Catching Fire worth catching even if you are not one of the hordes of teenaged fans who make the franchise a critic-proof box office smash.

Otherwise, we are on familiar ponderous ground for the first half, with Katniss and her miserable faux-boyfriend (or is he?) inspiring rebellion among the great unwashed while on a publicity tour.

Dastardly President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the creator of the games (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plot to destroy Katniss and her rising stature as a heroine of the people by forcing the duo to compete in a new fight to the death against the victors of previous games.

Catching Fire finally does, when Katniss forges uneasy alliances with some of the more diverse and older competitors to fight all manner of nasties in the arena. Fun for sure, although the high concept is still all too familiar to anyone who has seen The Running Man or Battle Royale.

How refreshing it is to see a movie centred on a brave, smart, capable and even sardonic woman of action who leaves all three himbo love interests in the dust.

However, this overlong double dip into an already established story should have been called ‘Slow Burn’ and its abrupt deus ex machina ending cheats the audience of any real progression of the saga.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (M) 

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Liam Hemsworth (The Expendables 2), Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn)

Director: Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants)

Screening: Reading Cinemas Queenstown

Three stars (out of five)

– Otago Daily Times