CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The problem with most highly anticipated movies is that they rarely ever live up to their hype. The problem with most film adaptations of novels is that what made the book great is lost somewhere in the process of moving the story from page to screen. Highly-anticipated film adaptations of novels are set up to fail the moment they're announced.
"The Hunger Games," the first in the four-part movie series based on Suzanne Collins' trilogy, managed to avoid both of the aforementioned problems. The second entry, "Catching Fire," doesn't just live up to its predecessor; it surpasses it in every department.
The first film's main cast returns, along with newcomers including Sam Claflin ("Snow White and the Huntsman"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master) and Jena Malone ("Sucker Punch"). The new cast members do a fantastic job with their characters, and the superb acting of the cast makes the great script even better.
Like the first film, it's Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Katniss Everdeen that completely dominates the movie. Although Katniss retains her sense of independence and rebelliousness, her walls have started to crack after developing PTSD from the events she experienced in "The Hunger Games."
Throughout the 150 minutes she's on screen, Lawrence completely loses herself in her character, making it almost difficult to watch some of the scenes due to the film's focus on emotional trauma. Katniss suffers a great deal in "Catching Fire," and Lawrence is able to make the audience feel the anger, pain and fear she goes through.
Like the book, the film's biggest flaw is its setup. The final book, "Mockingjay," is completely different than the first, "The Hunger Games," and "Catching Fire" has the hard task of merging the two so the transition feels natural. It does this by combining elements used in "The Hunger Games" and introducing elements "Mockingjay" then expands upon.
To do this, the first few acts of the film are devoted to discussing the brewing rebellion that Katniss has stirred up by winning the Hunger Games, while the other acts retread the same formula as the original: training, a talk-show appearance and then the Games themselves.
Every 25 years, the Games get a unique twist in an event known as the Quarter Quell, which reminds the people of Panem of the failed attempt at rebellion decades before. Due to Katniss threatening the Capitol's power, the twist this time is that only previous victors may be reaped, resulting in Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) participating once more.
With Katniss and Peeta forming an alliance with other victors, including Finnick (Claflin) and Johanna (Malone), the scenes in the Arena still offer their fair share of drama. It's here the characters get fleshed out more and the movie explores more of the series' moral themes.
The film shares the ending of its literary counterpart, so the final moments are bound to make "Hunger Games" fans who haven't read the books groan. It's a huge cliffhanger meant to build excitement for "Mockingjay: Part 1," set for release this time next year.
There's no real sense of conclusion with "Catching Fire." It's aptly titled, as it gets the series rolling into its last installments. Its sole purpose is to ignite the fuse the first film laid and carry over to the finale's explosive bang.
Fans will be hard pressed to find any faults with this adaptation. It's a thoroughly entertaining, satisfying thrill ride that doesn't lose the charm of the novel. Be warned, though, if you didn't like the first film, "Catching Fire" isn't going to change your mind about the series.