Darker, deeper ‘Catching Fire’ puts excitement back into serials

Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.’ Rated PG-13, 146 min. Lionsgate, 2013.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is the rare middle chapter that doesn’t just bide its time until something more exciting happens in the finale. Director Francis Lawrence’s sequel creates a fantastic pace that builds with the menace of a wave, crests strongly as the twists unravel… and then the credits roll right before the inevitable break. With all the talk of rebellions and the evil overlords, comparisons to “The Empire Strikes Back” (arguably the greatest middle chapter in film) seem natural – and justified.

In this much darker movie filled with deeper themes, victors Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are thrown back into danger when they become figureheads of social unrest. The scowling president (Donald Sutherland) and new gamemaker (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) concoct a plan for an all-star showdown that introduces a handful of new characters, the best played by Sam Claflin and Jena Malone.

Katniss is still torn by her melodramatic love triangle, and she gets beaten down in every sense in this fierce, fun and timeless allegory that captures the excitement and emotion of what a great serialized action movie can be.

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