Armed with new director Francis Lawrence—no relation to star Jennifer Lawrence—The Hunger Games is back for a second installment. While critics probably couldn't keep fans away from Catching Fire if they tried ... they aren't trying. Both Lawrences shine in this sequel, which critics say is better than the first.
- "Everything that felt clumsy in The Hunger Games has been improved upon here," writes Ian Buckwalter at NPR. You can thank the new director for that. "The series may never get better than this, but it's clearly in the right hands now."
- Director Lawrence works "expertly, from a sharp, lucid screenplay," writes Joe Morgenstern at the Wall Street Journal. "Yet none of it would work—not the action, the adventure, the political subtext, or the humor—without the strength and beauty that Ms. Lawrence brings to the central role."
- But David Denby at the New Yorker thinks the book has this one beat. Like the first, the second adaptation "doesn’t make a lot of sense." Still, "parts of Catching Fire—at least the first 45 minutes or so—are impressive." There's good acting from Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson, but the middle of the film "is attenuated and rhythmless."
- For Colin Covert at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, however, "Catching Fire is the new The Empire Strikes Back, a smashing sci-fi sequel that takes its blockbuster franchise into deeper, smarter, more dramatically engaging territory. ... I was entertained by the first Games film. This one gripped me."