"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is much like its celebrity heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who begins this sequel fulfilling a public-relations tour as penance for her killer popularity. She is adored by millions. The books are, too. The three Suzanne Collins novels, to be spread across four films, are being adapted with much fidelity to the source material. All "Catching Fire" had to do was to show up, look good and not screw up to succeed.
For newbies: The games of the title are battles to the death between resourcefully murderous representatives of beaten-down districts in a police state known as Panem. Through her wiles, her bow-and-arrow skills and her bangin' fashion sense, Katniss triumphed in the first movie, surviving to the end and engineering a life-saving maneuver for her friend and fellow district competitor Peeta.
Panem's president connives to crush this fearsomely famous woman, whose ability to foment revolution among the oppressed masses is nothing to dismiss. The movie is part treatise on the hardships of unwanted notoriety, part blood sport revisited, the games this time played by an all-star cadre of past winners.
The violence in "Catching Fire" can get rough, but the reason these movies work relates to our ability to take the carnage seriously. Every time Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss witnesses a killing, state-sanctioned or otherwise, it hurts. It means something. We're not talking about highly dimensional or evocative mythmaking here. The films are more about hitting the marks and setting up the next part. But they work.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time: 2:26
Opens: Thursday evening