The second installment pretty much delivers the same results as the first – a superbly acted and entertaining but diluted Battle Royale. On the other hand, this time around it delves deeper into the implications of its world and makes for a compelling smart crowd-pleaser.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE begins as Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a “Victor’s Tour” of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) – a competition that could change Panem forever. (c) Lionsgate

The first half is a rehash of the original, but this time there’s more room to flesh out the characters and delve into their silent suffering. Instead of being trapped by their role as tributes, the lead characters are tied up as political tools as winners, peddled around to the masses.

Jennifer Lawrence is superb as usual with grit yet enough vulnerability that keeps the film engaging. Josh Hutcherson is consistent as the sorrowful yet strong in-game love Peeta. Elizabeth Banks is amusing and affecting as a garish Barbie Doll who gives a peek of her human side as Effie. The rest of the cast delivers a solid performance.

The second half is conventional. The hunger games is diluted. The shaky camera work is gone but the fights are barely shown and Katniss and Co. go against nature instead. Unfortunately Lawrence’s trope subverting female character is short lived and turns into a Mary Sue.

The series will probably be destined as a watered down version of Battle Royale to keep the ratings marketable and its a huge waste of opportunity. I foresee a predictable final film with the themes of friendship, love and freedom wrapped in a summer blockbuster.

Nonetheless the second installment is enjoyable even if its an extended ending of the first and introduction to the third, which is the usual case for middle chapters. Its a blockbuster that manages to be entertaining and intelligent. The main draw here is Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers great acting that’s emotional and inspiring.

My Rating: 7/10

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