When I wrote my review of the first film in “The Hunger Games” series over a year and a half ago, I couldn’t stop gushing about Gary Ross’ gritty, unsparing aesthetic. The shaky camera and rough editing made the movie’s form brilliantly match the dark content of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of young adult novels. But Ross is gone for the second installment, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and his unique stylization went with him.
The absence of artistry is likely to only bother people like me who study film, however. And while I was sad to see it go, “Catching Fire” more than compensates with a tighter focus on storytelling and fidelity to its source. Under the steady direction of Francis Lawrence and the pen of Oscar-winning scribes Michael Arndt (‘Toy Story 3“) and Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours“), this sequel is among the rare class that manages to outdo than its predecessor.
“Catching Fire” manages to pack a remarkable amount of events into its nearly two and a half hour runtime; in fact, I had read the book a few months before seeing the movie and could hardly think of anything excised from the plot. Yet even in spite of how much it bites off, the film never feels its length at all. Lawrence keeps the action unfolding at a steady clip, never hurried enough to make us feel frenzied but never so drawn out that we can get bored. (And unlike the first “Hunger Games,” I was actually excited for the next film when “Catching Fire” ended.)