"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire": A Girl Torn Between Two Boys and an Evil President

The seeds of rebellion take root in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, an across-the-board superior sequel thanks in part to the stewardship of Francis Lawrence. Ditching predecessor Gary Ross' ceaseless shaky-cam, Lawrence's direction has a clean precision that amplifies the mounting tension of his story, which initially finds former Hunger Games victors Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) attempting to maintain their phony romance in the media spotlight. While its portrait of celebrity as a powerful (and easily manipulated) tool of social change is given somewhat short shrift, the film nonetheless maintains compelling focus on Katniss' struggle with revolutionary responsibility as well as romantic confusion, thanks to her competing feelings for boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta. Despite ably fleshing out Katniss' inner conflicts, the overlong first half tends to drag a bit, with the pace picking up once Katniss and her fellow Games victors are forced to compete, again, by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), a tyrant eager to break Katniss and, in the process, quell a budding insurgency by oppressed subjects who view Katniss as the symbol of their possible salvation. A ridiculous skirmish with baboons notwithstanding, the eventual kill-or-be-killed Games prove thrilling, though this cliffhanger-y second series installment thrives mainly because of the magnetic Lawrence, whose mixture of compassion, loyalty, and ferocity turns Katniss into a stirring figure of righteous — and, in a climactic shot that appropriates imagery normally reserved for men, Christ-like — heroism.

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