'Hunger Games: Catching Fire': What the Critics Are Saying
The film boasts a "noticeably spiffier, more confident feel than the first," writes THR's Todd McCarthy, while The New York Times' Manohla Dargis believes that director Francis Lawrence gives the franchise "a tougher, less sentimental feel this time around."
Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire appears positioned for a big box-office haul with its Friday release. The second of four film adaptations from Suzanne Collins' popular YA trilogy, Catching Fire has garnered generally positive reviews, touting a solid 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Jennifer Lawrence returns as the story's heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who finds the odds stacked against her once again as she enters into a new phase of dystopian warfare. After conquering the Hunger Games in the first installment, spurring public discontent throughout the Districts, Katniss becomes subject to the whims of a virulent ruler, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), as the narrative develops.
Shortly after Lionsgate greenlighted production, Gary Ross, director of the first film, announced his withdrawal from the second installment, opening the position to Francis Lawrence. Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks reprise their roles, joined by new castmembers Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright.
Despite the film's rushed preproduction period, The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy insists that Catching Fire "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," McCarthy writes. "Across the board, the new film boasts a noticeably spiffier, more confident feel than the first, even as the overriding impression is one of methodical responsibility to the source material."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis highlights the effectiveness of the film's new cast and director. "Mr. Lawrence gives Catching Fire a tougher, less sentimental feel this time around," Dargis writes, demonstrating his "gift for projecting unaffected indomitableness."
While not necessarily a "great work of art," Lionsgate delivers "a competent, at times exciting movie and it does something that better, more artistically notable movies often fail to do: It speaks to its moment in time."
With a firm sense of plot established in the first Hunger Games project, "Catching Fire layers in increased visual brio while remaining faithful to the essence of a trilogy popular enough to have more than 50 million copies in print," the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan resolves. Crediting the trifecta of exemplary writing, directing and acting, Turan contends that audiences can expect the franchise to continue to flourish.
"At nearly two and a half hours, Catching Fire may well strike non-Games players as insufferably sluggish, especially during the interminable run-up to the games," the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday concedes. But while the introduction of new castmembers takes time, "Everyone hits their marks with gusto and believability." Hornaday points to Jennifer Lawrence's performance in particular: "Even viewers who watch Catching Fire unwillingly won't be able to resist her gravitational pull."
The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle contends that the film "relies too much on the success of the original story, with a plotline that calls to mind its contours."
However critical of the few "empty action sequences," LaSalle finds that Catching Fire "always revives." The film is "best in its first hour," he says, "becomes more conventional in the second half and loses steam, but it's always heading somewhere."