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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review. Sequel better than the first one

katniss_hunger_games_catching_fire-wideSynopsis: Combatants and sweethearts Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned victorious from the 74th Annual Hunger Games. While on a Victory Tour to Panem’s various downtrodden districts, revolution is in the air. The people see Katniss as a symbol of freedom, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the country’s autocratic leader. To quell the revolution he and his head gamesmaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) devise the trickiest Hunger Games yet, the Quarter Quell that will pit former winners against one another in the battle to the death.

•    Richard: 4/5
•    Mark: 3/5

Richard: Mark, I’m glad I saw the first Hunger Games movie because I’m not sure if I would have a clue as to what was going on if I didn’t have that background. I may have been taken in by the beautiful art direction, or Jennifer Lawrence’s intense performance, but I don’t think I would have been able to connect all the dots. Plot points become more obvious in the second hour, but for non-Hungerites it might be confusing. What did you think?

Mark: I don’t think anyone who didn’t see the first one would even be interested in seeing the second instalment. So the question becomes: how do they compare? And surprisingly, I kind of prefer the sequel. The issues of state control, of media manipulation, and of income disparity are sharper and less cartoonish here. But more important, the secondary characters are more interesting and better drawn. Some of the contestants are intriguing, like Jeffrey Wright’s techno-nerd, and his partner Amanda Plummer, doing her nutso thing. I even liked Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci this time around — the characters seemed more grounded in the story.

RC: I do think this is a better movie than the first instalment. It is set decorated and costumed to within an inch of its life, but nonetheless has a gritty edge. It doesn’t feel like a budget big franchise movie and that’s a good thing. Visually as well as thematically it has more edge than any of the recent Marvel movies. And it skirts around the thing that upset many people about the first movie — the idea of kids killing kids — by setting the action between former victors ranging in age from in their 20s to in their 70s.

MB: You know what else it skirts around? The killings themselves, many of which happen off-screen, to protect the delicate psyches of our tweener population. But that’s OK; this isn’t really a film about body count. The only thing that left me queasy was the cliffhanger ending, with a plot twist that will seem arbitrary until we catch the next instalment.

RC: The cliffhanger ending is a bit of a shock after the almost two-and-a-half hour running time, but I felt as though enough had happened to keep me interested for the next one.

MB: And I think the next one may show Woody Harrelson to be the  trilogy’s most valuable player.

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