“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
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By Don Gibble  November 29, 2013 12:00 am

  Another sequel. A huge sequel though. “The Hunger Games” has more fans than “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” combined. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” runs no risk of disappointing its absolutely ravenous target audience. 

Serving up everything from Suzanne Collins’ eventful second installment in her trilogy about teenage warrior and rebel Katniss Everdeen that fans could possibly want to see, this is a safe, serviceable, carefully crafted action drama and as before, Jennifer Lawrence is the superb center of it all.

Although “Catching Fire” had a rushed and tumultuous preproduction period due to the departure of original director Gary Ross and a quick search for a new one that settled on Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), the film shows no signs of haste. 

The script by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn reflects the shape, emphasis and incident of the book with almost scientific precision, and the desire to deliver the expected goods is keenly felt. 

The root of the conflict here is betrayal, while the story’s underlying drive is subversion, a strong dramatic combination. With Katniss safely back at home in District 12, her biggest problem would seem to be figuring out what to do with obvious match Gale (Liam Hemsworth) in light of her official romance with her Hunger Games co-winner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). 

A surprise visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) makes plain his own insistence that she play ball, not only in maintaining the fictional love story but in satisfying his own suspicions of her loyalty to him and the Capitol. It’s clear that he’d use the slightest excuse to have her eliminated.

Instead, he develops a different ploy. After a traditional Victor’ Tour through all of Panem’s districts, which reveals that public discontent could easily break out into revolution against Snow’s control, it’s announced that the 75th anniversary of the Capitol’s ultimate victory - the third Quarter Quell - will trigger a new set of games to be played exclusively by former winners, one man and one woman from each district. Many of these victors are old friends, not to mention national heroes. In the case of district 12, it means that Katniss will be pitted against either Peeta or their old mentor, Haymatch (Woody Harrelson). It’s Peeta that volunteers. 

   “Last year was child’s play,” Haymatch warns his proteges, who need to sort out how they feel about one another as well as who, between them, should survive or die if it comes down to that.

 Katniss is fatalistic about it, convinced as she is that President Snow will never allow her to live, while others, for that very reason, argue that she must never give in as she’s the face and instigation of the growing rebellion.

Although dominated by gray, wintery skies and the cold wind of totalitarian oppression, the first eighty minutes of exposition and build-up are packed with incident, ranging from Robocop-like soldiers assaulting or killing civilians over insubordinate acts big and small to the former victors’ rides on a luxury train all over the country, their adornment for many television and public appearances.

 A more equivocal new character turns up in in the person of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, the freshly appointed chief gamekeeper who will be overseeing an event that’s inspiring an increasingly queasy feeling in the public, given how beloved many of the former winners are and their unhappiness at being forced to participate. Given that the modern gladiators may be reluctant to kill one another and that some expedient alliances take shape, Plutarch is obliged to create an environment for the games that’s unprecedented in its treacherousness.

Technical and craft contributions mark a step up from the original. 

The film is worth seeing in the theaters and it came out at a great time. The whole family will enjoy it together. 

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