Exceptionally well-made 'Catching Fire' shows just how broad an actually good Young Adult adaptation can span (unlike 'Twilight'). Made for the die-hard fans of the novel, casual moviegoers, and picky critics alike.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence and cast have returned for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but the major of the filmmakers behind the should-have-been-better first installment have been replaced with much better ones – and the result is astounding.

Catching Fire picks up six months after the ending of The Hunger Games. After Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) openly defied the Capital during the last Games, the president (Donald Sutherland) devises a way to remove them from the equation and restore harmonious balance to the 12 rioting and rebelling Districts – the next round of Hunger Games will not use a standard lottery to determine the Tributes (players); instead, the next Games’ Tributes will be selected from each District’s Victors (previous winners of the Hunger Games). With Katniss being the only female Victor from District 12, she’ll be forced to play – and the off of winning two Hunger Games are definitely not in her favor.

Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was simply okay in the first Hunger Games, but being an Academy Award winning actress, we know that she’s capable of so much more. Luckily, Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence knows how to use her. She truly shines in her return to Katniss. The rest of the cast is also used better and the new additions – Jenna Malone, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Sam Clafin – are equally fantastic. The emotional connection missing from the first film is absolutely corrected here. The audience benefits because, for the first time, we’re able to feel what the characters are feeling – the despair, the fear and the worry.

I’ve been asked many times, “Do I need to see the first film in order to follow Catching Fire?” Yes. You’ll definitely be missing out if not. There are key plot points and relationships that are crucial for following Catching Fire.

I know that kid-on-kid slaughterfest of The Hunger Games was off-putting for a lot of parents. Rest assured know that the only (supposed) kids participating in this movies’ Hunger Game are Katniss and Peeta – and I can’t think of anyone who views those two as children.

From what Mrs. Hickman (an avid lover of the novels) tell me, Catching Fire is a highly faithful adaptation. What I didn’t expect from this second installment was a Lord of the Rings/Matrix Reloaded-esque “non-ending.” The film’s climax is hardly a climax at all, as it simply ends with a brief lead-in for things to come in the next film. Unlike the ending to the first film, this one will leave you wanting to immediately see more. Too bad we have to wait another year for Mockingjay: Part 1 – but if The Hunger Games franchise stays on track with Catching Fire, it’s going to be well worth the wait.

(Photo credit: Lionsgate)

4 1/2 out of 5

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