Katniss and Peeta return in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the second installment in the lucrative “Hunger Games” trilogy — er, quadrilogy, I guess would be the correct term here. With two more to go, it looks like Lionsgate’s got themselves a real barn burner, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you started hearing talk of spin-offs or, heck, even a TV series by the time the second “Mockingjay” movie is being readied for theaters in two years. After all, squeezing blood from a stone is what Hollywood does best (or worse, depending on your perspective).
“Catching Fire” continues the adventures of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and all the poor saps trapped in futuristic Panem. Having won the Hunger Games, it’s easy street for our faux lovebirds, though of course nothing is ever easy in the depressing future. Soon, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) thinks it’s time to make an example out of the feisty Katniss, and concocts a plan to silence her and the rebellion brewing specifically because of her: he launches the Quarter Quell, where past Hunger Games victors are forced back into the arena. Kaniss and Peeta, of course, are once again pitted in a life and death struggle — except this time they’ll be fighting killers, people who have slaughtered their way through the games like themselves.
As the kids would say, shit just got real, yo. Of course, it’s been “real” for Katniss for a while now. Winning has gotten her a new house, and her mom and little sis don’t have to scrap for their food anymore, but Katniss is still feeling mighty depressed. Childhood buddy Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still all moody and kinda ticked that Katniss had to fake her way through a love story with Peeta in the first movie, but you know, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Don’t worry, though, as with the first flick, poor Gale only gets a few moments before he’s relegated to background duty in the second hour, when Katniss and Peeta once again enter the arena for their lives.
The action this time around is more harrowing, though the violence aren’t necessarily anymore interesting. There are a lot of swordplay, sharp instruments being used, but overall this is still “Battle Royale”-lite. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It is a PG-13 movie, after all. Director Francis Lawrence, taking over for Gary Ross (who couldn’t hack the franchise’s fast turnaround schedule), is an old hand with spectacle and action, so there are no downgrades in quality behind the camera. In front, Lawrence once again perfectly captures courage, bravery, and vulnerability in everything she does. What can I say? The young woman is just friggin’ uber talented. There is absolutely no doubt about it — “The Hunger Games” franchise lives and dies by Lawrence’s vast talents.
There’s no reason why fans of the first movie won’t be just as enamored with “Catching Fire.” The plot beats are almost identical to the “The Hunger Games,” except this time audiences get treated to a twisty finale. Of course, it won’t be much of a twist for anyone who has already read the Suzanne Collins books, but a few jaws are sure to be left hanging from all you non-readers. And hey, you wanted war? Well, you’re going to get war. The final two films in the series, the two-partner “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” promise to be the most violent, explosive installments yet. Shit gonna get real real, yo.
The Blu-ray Combo Pack promises “over two hours” of bonus features. About six minutes of those two hours is a sneak peek at “Divergent,” the other sci-fi YA book turned into a movie franchise that Lionsgate is hoping will make “Hunger Games” bank. There is also a full-length audio commentary with director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. It’s okay, but not spectacular. I was mostly bored, and so were they, from the sounds of it. You also get about four minutes of deleted scenes, along with the 9-part making-of documentary called “Surviving the Game,” which runs well over two hours, and is loaded with behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and various goodies. Definitely a worthwhile watch for fans of the movie/series with a few hours to kill.