‘Catching Fire’ catches on with critics

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“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” had every reason to be awful: there’s been a change in directors, it could fall victim to the sophomore slump, its class of new actors could have totally phoned in their performances.

But — thankfully for dutiful fans who are planning to see “Catching Fire” whether it’s horrible or not — this movie brings the heat.

Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with “Catching Fire” currently rating a fresh 92 percent on RottenTomatoes.com. It’s not that critics haven’t found some glitches — it runs needlessly long, was an overarching complaint, and the screenplay and direction do occasionally fall short — but taken as a whole, and especially when compared to the first installment, this Francis Lawrence-helmed production is a winning pick for fans and non-fans alike.

Check out what these top critics had to say:

Salon: “I went in dreading its 146-minute running time, especially after the messy and often undercooked first film, and was so captivated by the vibrant spectacle — seeing the movie in IMAX is actually worth it, this time around — that I was startled when the closing credits began to roll. It’s a middle chapter, for sure, but a vigorous and fast-paced one that leaves you hungry for more.”

Variety: “The far superior ‘Catching Fire’ rewrites the rules, which not only makes for a more exciting death match, but also yields a rich sociopolitical critique in the process … In director Francis Lawrence’s steady hands … ‘Catching Fire’ makes for rousing entertainment in its own right, leaving fans riled and ready to storm the castle.”

USA Today: The sequel to last year’s Hunger Games is grittier and the atmosphere more brooding, which suits the increasingly dystopian theme of the stories. But it also feels like a re-tread. … Sill, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is crowd-pleasing and compelling, most of all because of its fiery, charismatic heroine.

Village Voice: “‘Catching Fire suffers from the movie equivalent of middle-book syndrome: The story is wayward and rangy, on its way to being something, maybe, but not adding up to much by itself. Still, it’s entertaining as civics lessons go, and it’s a more polished, assured picture than its predecessor. … Lawrence is a movie star who’s still believable as a girl. She’s both on fire and in the process of becoming, and it’s magnificent to watch.”

New York Magazine: “Relatively speaking (to ‘The Hunger Games’), ‘Catching Fire’ is terrific. Even nonrelatively, it’s pretty damn good. As ever, (Jennifer) Lawrence is a treat, her face is that of a warrior who kills in sorrow rather than anger.”

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