“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the second installment in the series of films based on the novels by Suzanne Collins, opens in U.S. theaters on Friday. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, as well as Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in supporting roles.
The Post’s Ann Hornaday praises Lawrence’s work in the film:
The engine of the entire operation is Jennifer Lawrence, who in Katniss has found a character that chimes perfectly with her own persona as an earthy, blunt-speaking ingenue suddenly thrust into a world of celebrity and media-fueled idol worship. Somehow managing to look like a real, flesh-and-blood girl even in “Catching Fire’s” most bizarre tableaux, Lawrence is never less than compelling, her rounded cheeks suggesting innocence but her sharp, alert gaze suggesting otherwise, whether she’s aiming her notorious bow and arrow or scrutinizing Cinna’s latest incendiary creation.
Much like the young heroine she doesn’t play as much as inhabit from the inside out, Lawrence is a force of nature. Even viewers who watch “Catching Fire” unwillingly won’t be able to resist her gravitational pull, which in her case isn’t a function of conventional movie-star looks, but character and command presence. Her final, steely stare at the camera says it all, suggesting an actress fully equipped and ready to navigate her brave, often depraved, new world. I’ve got this, the look seems to say. The monster must be fed.
A.A. Dowd writes that the ensemble performs well, too, with the exceptions of Hemsworth as Gale and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta:
So commanding is Lawrence in her reprised role, which requires both action-heroine steeliness and movie-star charisma, that it’s a shame to see her paired off with a couple of duds. Surely there are better options for an eagle-eyed asskicker like Katniss than Gale, brooding endlessly on the sidelines, or Peeta, with his clinginess and guilt trips? (Do any Hunger Games fans fall into Team Neither?) Aside from the bland love interests, though, Catching Fire is filthy with stellar backup—from Woody Harrelson’s tough-love mentor figure to Stanley Tucci’s leathery host to Hoffman’s mysterious careerist. Like the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games films double as showcases (and easy paychecks) for a supporting cast of fine, seasoned pros.
The film is in many ways a reprise of the original, but it’s an improvement, according to David Edelstein:
A second Hunger Games. A bigger Death Star. Another shrubbery. Okay, there’s not a lot of invention there. The government’s machinations are a mite confusing, the whys and hows of the new game murky, and the thinking behind Katniss’s desire to sacrifice herself for Peeta a head-scratcher. In the latter case, the fault might lie with Hutcherson, whose face doesn’t draw the camera—he’s tight and inexpressive—and who gets no help from his director. But Lawrence (Francis, not Jennifer) does well with the film’s mighty set pieces. A scene in which Katniss trains by shooting arrows into oncoming cyberfoes composed of flaming blocks is rousingly well done. Katniss’s self-immolating wedding gown on the eve of the Games is a gorgeous effect. Used judiciously this time, the handheld camera in the Hunger Games amps up the terror immeasurably—especially in a sequence featuring killer baboons that’s shot and edited (and presumably computer-generated) with ferocious skill.
Paul MacInnes, however, was disappointed by the sameness of the films:
What lets the movie down is its heart, or lack thereof. The reprise of the Games introduces new adversaries (and some allies) but has exactly the same dynamic as in the first movie; Katniss must keep both herself and the ever-so bumbling Peeta alive. It’s all a bit familiar. There’s also a figurative heartlessness about this passage, too. While a fair portion of the original was spent setting up the moral difficulties of competing in a winner-takes-all bloodbath, as the bodycount here grows, the minds of the participants are only on tactics.
We rush to a rousing climax which, naturally, sets up Part three (or to be technically accurate, part 3a). Yet there’s never quite the sense of satisfaction that the first film provided. You can feel the franchise dynamic chugging beneath, with the result that Catching Fire is not quite a full course, more of an amuse bouche, making its mammoth audience hungry for future, meatier instalments.