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by Shelby Flynn, Reporter

In previous reviews, I’ve shared my feelings about movie sequels. In most cases, the sequel and even prequel installments of certain movies never seem to add up to the original film’s potential. What’s sometimes even worse is when a movie franchise is based on a book series; movies often tend to veer away from the material in the book, making both look like entirely different stories. This is quite frustrating for the avid fan base of the book series, who are not at all shy about pointing out the film’s shortcomings. Luckily, for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” none of this is a problem.

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, “Catching Fire” picks up exactly where “The Hunger Games” left off. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are trying to adjust to life in their home District 12 as victors of the 74th Hunger Games. After outsmarting the Capitol in order to survive the games, Katniss has become a beacon of hope for change in all of the surrounding districts, making the Capitol’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) very fearful of an uprising. For the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, called the Quarter Quell, President Snow decides to make this year’s games more dangerous by putting both Katniss and Peeta back into the games with past victors who are highly skilled killers, hoping to eliminate Katniss once and for all.

Directed by Francis Lawrence, the excitement of “Catching Fire” greatly surpasses that of the original, which is a big feat in itself. While I’m a fan of the first “Hunger Games,” there were quite a few moments in the movie where the story seemed to stall and took forever to move on to something else. A change of scenery every once in a while would’ve been nice.

“Catching Fire” keeps the action going from start to finish. The emotions in this film are a lot higher as well. Once Katniss and Peeta discover they’re being put back in the games, they and everyone around them feel that magnified fear and devastation. And the actors do a superb job of making you feel those things right along with them, as if they’re saying right to your face, “Hey, we probably won’t make it out this time.” I won’t lie; I got teary-eyed more than once. But they’re also sure to throw in a lot of light-humored laughs along the way, just to keep you from turning into a complete emotional mess.

If there’s anyone out there who had any doubts, this film will rightfully establish why Jennifer Lawrence is the new queen of Hollywood. Her portrayal of Katniss is beyond powerful, oozing an unbeatable determination to survive and take down the cruel Capitol at all costs. She ultimately proves why the districts look to her for leadership. It’s a breath of fresh air to see an independent female lead. While there might be a love triangle in the series, it is a microscopic piece of the puzzle and Katniss never lets it cloud her mind of the real goal. I find this funny considering it is the exact opposite of “Twilight” and its female protagonist, Bella Swan, who was totally worthless without her boyfriend and depended on him to fix the problems she created. Like I said, it’s great to see some female empowerment and have a new sort of role model to look up to.

The film also reunites us with beloved characters from the first such as Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and Katniss and Peeta’s boozy sponsor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), while introducing us to the likeable new characters, Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone).

Judging by the crowd at the movie’s premiere, there’s no doubt that opening weekend will be a huge money-maker, and rightfully so. Fans of the book will not be disappointed. “Catching Fire” is a thrill ride, leaving you on the edge of your seat until the shocking end, which will leave you wanting more. My only thought while leaving the theater was that the third installment, “Mockingjay,” cannot come fast enough.

Rating: 8.0/10

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