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Jennifer Lawrence in Catching Fire

review roundup

Review Roundup: Hunger Games: Catching Fire Is Way Better Than Its Predecessor

When it comes to the new Hunger Games movie, there's one thing that critics unanimously agree on: The second movie is way, way better than the first. (They also agree that J.Law is totally awesome, obviously.) Thanks to new director Francis Lawrence, what could otherwise have been a clunky sequel is “leaner, gutsier and smarter,” not to mention “bigger, better and broodier” than its predecessor, and much improved by losing former director Gary Ross’s nauseating penchant for the shaky cam. As our own David Edelstein put it, “Relatively speaking, Catching Fire is terrific. Even nonrelatively, it’s pretty damn good.” Not that you weren't going to go see it anyway.

“There’s a new range and vision apparent in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, both a passion and a sense of social scope, that eclipse the franchise’s first film.” — Tom Long, Detroit News

“Whereas for some of us the confounding cosmology of kids killing other kids for pleasure and political expedience reeks of cynicism and downright perversion, fans of The Hunger Games should find Catching Fire a superlative advancement of the franchise. Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), taking the reins from Gary Ross, smoothly steers the characters through their latest course of depredations and abuse, allowing plenty of moments to simply sit back and groove on the eye candy.” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

“It’s a remarkable performance. And it’s just one of several in Catching Fire, which helps explain why this second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy is a significant improvement on the movie that launched the franchise last year. Credit director Francis Lawrence (no relation to the lead actress) for that. Taking over the reins from Gary Ross, who directed the original, Lawrence brings a level of seriousness and visual elegance to Catching Fire that makes the picture feel much more substantial than its predecessor.” — Soren Andersen, The Seattle Times

“Everything about the sequel feels bigger, more charged with import, and seen with greater resolve (if only because the filmmakers forgo the trendy shaky-cam of the first movie).” — Ty Burr, Boston Globe  

"It isn't the threat of camp that makes this second movie an improvement over its interesting but stultifying 2012 predecessor. It's the threat of insurgency and reprisal. This new movie makes you believe that it's building toward something explosive and that whatever it is (revolution, apocalypse, consummation) matters for the movie's characters. This is Empire Strikes Back stuff. It has that second Star Wars movie's kick of confidence. In fact, the final image made me consider doing something I've never wanted to do with any of these franchise series: start standing in line for the next two." — Wesley Morris, Grantland

“Blockbuster sequels can easily fall victim to the curse of 'bigger but not better,'  by raising the stakes in ways that often undermine what made the original film work. Given that the stakes of the first Hunger Games movie involved children fighting to the death in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the sequel would seem primed for just such an overshoot. But the second film in the mega-franchise, Catching Fire, not only succeeds in raising those stakes, it builds on its predecessor in a way that strengthens the foundation and lays the groundwork for the next level of the narrative, as laid out in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young-adult book series. It’s a quintessential middle film, lacking both substantive setup and a satisfying conclusion—and it’s all the better for it, thriving in the tumultuous, incendiary stages of a brewing revolution.” — Genevieve Koski, The Dissolve

“Being the middle child is a bitch. Same goes for books and movies. By that standard, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — the second film culled from Suzanne Collins' bestselling trilogy — should be a placeholder, stuck between the older kid who gets all the glory and the baby who gets all the love. Not this time. Catching Fire, which builds on the box-office and critical success of last year's Hunger Games, is spectacular in every sense of the word. For extra pow, see it in IMAX. It's also darker, deeper and more dangerously subversive.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone  

“Novelist Suzanne Collins’s dystopian YA trilogy is a bona fide publishing and moviegoing phenomenon, to the point that everyone involved could easily rest on their laurels and let the preordained cash roll in. Credit series newcomer Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and his collaborators for pushing things ever-so-slightly past tentpole-blockbuster indifference.” —  Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

"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." — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“This is no dull replay of the first movie, even though noble teen scrapper Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is forced into gladiatorial combat again. The stakes have gotten larger and also vastly more interesting, with the title games stretching from the battlefield into the mind.” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

“You’d expect Catching Fire to be misshapen onscreen, too, and a comedown—except The Hunger Games was relentlessly misdirected by Gary Ross, with his tiresomely indiscriminate handheld camera and inability to wring much emotion from child murder. Relatively speaking, Catching Fire is terrific. Even nonrelatively, it’s pretty damn good.” — David Edelstein, New York Magazine

“There was no particular reason to think that Austrian-born director Francis Lawrence (of I Am Legend and many music videos) deserved to take this franchise over from Hollywood veteran Gary Ross, who directed the first film. But Catching Fire is much crisper, more driven and more balanced than its predecessor, and while the Hunger Games themselves remain a what-the-hell series of ludicrous adventures — poison fog! Tsunami waves! Killer baboons! Hillary Clinton! (OK, one of those things isn’t really in the movie) — Lawrence keeps the pedal to the metal.” — Andrew O’Hehir,  Salon

“An effective piece of melodramatic popular entertainment that savvily builds on the foundation established by the first Hunger Games movie, 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.” — Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times

“Catching Fire is a work of thoughtful, emotionally engaging sci-fi — everything that its predecessor The Hunger Games was not. Filmmaker Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine), who took over the reins of the franchise from director Gary Ross, uses the same approach Alfonso Cuarón did when he elevated the Harry Potter series with The Prisoner of Azkaban. He doesn’t settle for just cutting and pasting Suzanne Collins’ novel onto film: Lawrence makes an actual movie, with characters who are much more than mirror reflections of the protagonists in the book.” —  Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

“More has shuffled behind the camera, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is much the better for it.” — Jake Coyle,  Associated Press

“Catching Fire is bigger, better and broodier than the first film.” — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

“If Catching Fire were a traditional studio sequel, one could reasonably expect a bigger, bloodier elimination contest to take centerstage — more of the same, presumably amplified by the extra $50 million or so Lionsgate poured into the budget this time around. Instead, this film hews to the model established by the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, where fidelity to the source material takes precedence, allowing this fictional world to grow deeper and more complex with each successive installment.” — Peter Debruge, Variety

"Following the unwritten lore of movie trilogies, the middle chapter of Katniss Everdeen’s sci-fi survival story is darker, moodier, meaner and, yes, better than Part 1." — Paul Bradshaw, Total Film

“What are the odds? Like Katniss Everdeen ducking a poison-tip arrow, the keepers of Suzanne Collins’s trilogy of fantasy novels have dodged the perils of the sloppy second franchise film. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is leaner, gutsier and smarter. In hand-to-hand combat, it would have the first film on the floor, trapped in a headlock, whimpering for mercy.” — Cath Clarke, Time Out London

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate