The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

WRITTEN BY: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt 
DIRECTED BY: Francis Lawrence
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman
RATING: 3.5 stars

Fans of The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins should be happy with the latest film in the franchise. After the first film spent time establishing the elaborate world, Catching Fire is able to get straight into further developing the main relationships before the real action begins about half way through the film. It is thanks to director Francis Lawrence (Water For Elephants, I Am Legend) who joined the film after the original director, Gary Ross, dropped out. He has steered the story well through all the twists and turns of the plot including poison fog, extreme weather, a tidal wave and crazed baboons.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) become targeted by the Capitol after winning the 74th Hunger Games and causing a rebellion in the districts. They are forced to fake their romance while her boyfriend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) waits for her. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) considers Katniss a threat to his dictatorship so he enlists the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to find a way to destroy her with the least amount of backlash from the districts.

Lawrence is arguably the most likeable and endearing person in Hollywood (perhaps Hugh Jackman is her only rival) and she shines in this film. Her character is struggling with the guilt of surviving the hunger games and stressed for what is to come next, and the young Oscar-winner demonstrates that internal drama well. Hemsworth has a bigger role in this film, which is a delight, while Hutcherson is solid. The rest of the likeable cast from the first film returns including Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks and Sutherland who are all entertaining. Claflin is among the new characters in the sequel and is both complex and charming. Viewers are not sure if he can be trusted or not. Hoffman is also a welcome addition to the cast.

While it is a little long, Catching Fire ends with a shock that will leave viewers intrigued for the third instalment.