Overview:  Katniss and Peeta are forced back into the thunder dome in the second installment of the Hunger Games franchise.  Lionsgate; 2013;  Rated PG-13; 146 Minutes.

Girl on Fire:  2013 was the year of Jennifer Lawrence.  Rather than making the mistake of allowing herself to be defined by a single prominent role, she showed viewers her range immediately by taking on diverse roles between the first and second Hunger Games.   After she earned her respect as an adult actress with her award-winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook, it was hard not to wonder how seamlessly she could dive back into Panem as a teen from District 12.  Any doubt that Lawrence may have lost her identity as the girl on fire is immediately erased in opening scene of Catching Fire, where we see her still battling flashbacks from her time in the arena as she prepares for her victory tour.  Where she was slightly outshined in The Hunger Games by the performances of some of the seasoned supporting cast (such as Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks), this time around J-Law is evidently the star of the film.

Catching Fire

History Repeats Itself:  As far as basic storyline goes, Catching Fire appears to be a complete mimic of its predecessor.  Katniss and Peeta are forced to display themselves for the Capitol’s entertainment as they prepare to enter battle royale and fight other citizens of Panem to the death.  Sound familiar?  The difference is, everything repeated this time around is done better.  The second chapter repetition that fell flat in the books is spirited, rejuvenated, stronger in the film adaptation.  Catching Fire possessed the emotion, intensity, and effects missing from The Hunger Games.

Moves and Counter-moves:  While The Hunger Games concludes on a high note, with the hero winning and throwing up the metaphorical middle finger to the Man as we viewers cheer, the sequel brings us back to earth.  The enemy is still there, and he’s pissed.  The underlying emotion throughout the duration of Catching Fire is anxiety.  As the Capitol begins to feel threatened and makes a display of power, they continue to spark unity among the districts with every effort to beat them down.  By the end of the film, both sides are licking their wounds and preparing for war.  This movie does not produce a single happy moment through its near three hour running time.  The content is mostly tears, death, and politics.  As the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee said, “It’s moves and counter-moves.”  These elements are what help  this trilogy’s middle overcome the sophomore slump standard set by countless sequels that prove grossly inferior  to their predecessors.  A second installment’s job is to push the story forward and build excitement for the climactic final chapter, which it does.  In this movie, we are left with little triumph by our hero other than her narrowly escaping death and then an inconclusive ending.  In this way, Catching Fire has a very The Empire Strikes Back feel to it, with the potential to be viewed later as the best movie of the franchise.

Rating: B+