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Photo By Murray Close – Courtesy of Lionsgate

Sequels are often a mixed bag, but this follow-up to the 2012 hit is based on Suzanne Collins’ novel, and not the arbitrary contrivance of a greedy studio. It represents commendable storytelling that ought to please the book’s many fans. With so much exposition out of the way, credited screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn have the opportunity to explore and expand on the basics of the first installment while introducing prominent new characters. Anyone unfamiliar with the books, or the first movie, will be left in the dark as this is a direct continuation of the initial film. 

Once again, the success of Hunger Games revolves around Jennifer Lawrence, who has a commanding screen presence and brings unforced honesty to everything she does. Katniss Everdeen remains a rebel who refuses to be intimidated by the threats of her President (Donald Sutherland) or the unpredictable actions of her fellow “victors” who are pitted against each other as the deadly games begin. Which ones may be genuine allies, and who can’t be trusted? Among the newcomers are such charismatic actors as Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, and Amanda Plummer. The most elusive new figure on the scene is the Game Master played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The presence of so many solid performers adds immeasurably to the film’s credibility and success.

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Photo By Murray Close – Courtesy of Lionsgate

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is long, and (understandably) presumes a keen level of interest on the part of its viewers. I was less than mesmerized by the first film but found myself more invested in this one, which deals less in plot than character dynamics. Even the flamboyant characters played by Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Stanley Tucci are more palatable (and a bit less outlandish) than they were the first time around.

In sum, this movie preaches to its enormous choir of fans and should give them what they want. To my pleasant surprise, I found it intriguing and involving, too.