November 19, 2013 3:18 pm

What the critics are saying: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

ABOVE: The Canadian premiere of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

TORONTO — The second chapter in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, opens on the pre-U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Canada’s own Donald Sutherland are among the stars reprising their roles from last year’s blockbuster based on the novels by Suzanne Collins.

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There’s no question that The Hunger Game: Catching Fire will blow away the competition at the box office on its opening weekend — and, probably, for some time afterwards — so does it really matter what the critics say?

Still, here’s a look at some of the reviews:

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter was impressed.

“Across the board, the new film boasts a noticeably spiffier, more confident feel than the first,” he wrote, “even as the overriding impression is one of methodical responsibility to the source material.”

At US Weekly, Mara Reinstein agreed.

“This faithful adaptation … is leaner and meaner than the original. It’s just not as novel,” she said. “This time around, every major beat from the book is hit with precision.”

Jake Coyle of The Associated Press described Catching Fire as “a considerable upgrade” over the first movie, thanks largely to director Francis Lawrence.

“[He] has given the film a more settled environment heavy on greys and a more appropriately grave emotional atmosphere. These are kids being forced to kill other kids, the franchise seems to have realized,” Coyle wrote.

In the New York Daily News, Joe Neumaier opined that Catching Fire comes very close to living up to its fans’ huge expectations.

“Despite its sense of been-here-slayed-that, director Francis Lawrence expertly delivers thrills, ideas and spectacle,” he wrote.

“The fact that Catching Fire, a tense cliffhanger before the upcoming, two-part conclusion Mockingjay, is an arrow’s breadth from perfect doesn’t diminish it. It’s absolutely outgrown its teen origins. In fact, its dark, satirical action is what the sci-fi of the ’70s — Rollerball, A Boy and His Dog, Logan’s Run” — did best.”

Peter Debruge of Variety compared the flick to another classic.

“While its pleasures can’t touch the thrill of seeing the Death Star destroyed — not yet, at least — the film runs circles around George Lucas’ ability to weave complex political ideas into the very fabric of B-movie excitement,” Debruge said.

Roger Friedman of Showbiz411 echoed the Star Wars reference.

“It’s like The Empire Strikes Back for 2013. For the middle chapter of a trilogy, Catching Fire has tons of actions, lots of narrative, and ends with a… question mark.”

Friedman called the movie “very entertaining” with “a lot of heart, character and development.”

He added: “One warning: get into the movie theater early. Catching Fire simply starts, with no opening title roll or any credits of any kind. It also starts in mid-conversation from the first film. There’s no pretense that this is a standalone feature. It just picks up and moves forward quickly from chapter one, which you should go back and watch right now if you need a catch up.”

Jake Wilson of Sydney Morning Herald took issue with the actual games in Catching Fire, suggesting they are “less interesting,” and noted that the director is fond of grand set-pieces.

“Katniss, Peter and their newfound allies spend less time battling the other contestants then they do fleeing from Plutarch’s booby traps, allowing the film to maintain suspense while lowering the sense of moral urgency,” said Wilson.

“We’re encouraged to believe that Katniss will always find a pragmatic way to survive without compromising her principles – a paradox which [Jennifer] Lawrence, who remains distinctly ‘of the people,’ is able to embody as few stars could.”

At The Telegraph, Robbie Collin singled out the “beguilingly oddball world that Collins and the film’s production designers and costumiers have constructed.”

Collin wrote: “It’s a critic’s instinct to auto-praise any blockbuster that tries to do something different, but Catching Fire is so committed to carrying on the fine work started by its predecessor that the applause flows utterly naturally.

“Is it too soon to say I can’t wait for the next one?”

BELOW: Watch the trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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