After 2012's The Hunger Games caught us off-guard with its subtle themes, this sequel more than lives up to the hype, dramatically expanding the scale of the action while letting the actors deepen their characters. It's a full-on action epic that cleverly retains author Suzanne Collins' narrative trick of telling the story through a flawed perspective. And it provides the needed push to give the whole saga real momentum.
We join our heroes not long after the last film ended: Katniss and Peeta (Lawrence and Hutcherson) are in trouble for challenging the authority of President Snow (Sutherland) and sowing the seeds of rebellion in the districts. Now they have to travel around the nation with their team - drunken mentor Haymitch (Harrelson), preening manager Effie (Banks), quietly subversive designer Cinna (Kravitz) - soothing ruffled feathers. But of course they only make things worse. So new Gamesmaker Plutarch (Hoffman) plots a way to force them back into the games with all of the past victors, so they can be wiped out for good. And Katniss is so busy worrying about protecting Peeta that she fails to remember who the true enemy is.
Screenwriters Beaufoy and deBruyn (aka Oscar-winner Michael Arndt) inventively maintain Katniss' narrow, inaccurate point-of-view right through the film, which keeps the audience wrong-footed all the way to the end. It's an exhilarating trick that makes the tour of the districts painfully dull and the return to the games utterly horrifying. It also gives Lawrence the chance to flex her own Oscar-winning chops, further tormenting us with her inability to choose between two good men: Peeta and Gale (Hemsworth), her pal back home. She certainly doesn't trust newcomers like the mouthy Johanna (Malone) or the too-hunky Finnick (Claflin).
Thankfully, the adept writers and cast add the subtlety director Lawrence struggles to convey. But he pulls together the effects and action scenes in ways that catch our imagination, making the futuristic setting feel more realistic than in the first film (a vastly larger budget helps) while never shying away from the darker emotions and startling violence. Much of the action is unnervingly nasty, but there are also several invigorating sequences that reveal the deeper intensions of Collins' three-book (and four-film) trajectory. And the movie gets us thinking about loyalty and justice in delicate ways blockbusters rarely attempt to do.
Run time: 146 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd November 2013
Box Office USA: $424.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $847.4M
Distributed by: Lionsgate Films
Production compaines: Lionsgate, Color Force
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 218 Rotten: 27
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: Francis Lawrence
Producer: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik
Screenwriter: Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Alan Ritchson as Gloss, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, Stanley Tucci as Caeser Flickerman, Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Amanda Plummer as Wiress, Meta Golding as Enobaria, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Lynn Cohen as Mags, Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, Stephanie Leigh Schlund as Cashmere, Bruno Gunn as Brutus, Maria Howell as Seeder, E. Roger Mitchell as Chaff, Patrick St. Esprit as Romulus Thread, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne