Of course it would be pretty easy to be a cynical movie critic when it comes to yet another book series-to-film series adaptation - yawn! But admittedly, it's difficult to feel that way with The Hunger Games franchise. Like the books, these films have managed to take familiar sci-fi genre trappings and transpose them into something accessible to wider audiences.
The success of the films pretty much come down the one-two punch of the emotionally charged protagonist Katniss, and the rabbit-out-of-the-hat casting of Lawrence to flesh out her on-screen interpretation. She is unquestionably the balanced centre of which all the chaos of Katniss' world revolves, which is impressive considering that Lawrence manages herculean task of making Katniss even more the relatable heroine than in the first outing despite even less characterisation to work with.
It's here where Catching Fire does come undone a little. For fans of such dystopian fare, narrative cues embedded in The Hunger Games films never completely fire on all cylinders. Much like the first instalment, much of the plot comes across as "oppressive government regime 101", a black-and-white view of good-and-bad that helps the success of the film as a lit-adaptation Hollywood blockbuster, but isn't particularly ground-breaking for genre aficionados who've seen it all before.
That's fine, especially to those who haven't seen it all before, which is likely to be many of people watching. Yet while the film tries to add in characters with depth to counteract this, its focus is still much more on the watered down corruption of power in politics and will of the people to stand up against them. It's a shame more character depth is sacrificed in favour of the overworked plot.
Admittedly, this may all be because of the middle-chapter syndrome. Plot lines and characters are left hanging without resolution, which is to be expected. But its distracting here, especially in the second half of the film, which surprisingly feels rushed despite the 2.5 hour running time.
It's perhaps unfair to be as critical of the problems with the film considering the intended audience; the films are a commercial success because of how easy it they are to digest. The Hunger Games films could have been a lot worse, and as far as Hollywood lit-adaptation of this ilk go, they are pretty entertaining.
Pleasingly, despite its narrative and character irks, Catching Fire is marked improvement on its predecessor. Its darker and grittier tone suits the themes of the film, and the raised stakes on the new Hunger Games that feature in this film. Lawrence continues to make magic out of melodrama, and continues to be supported by a great cast. The story does push forward with its ideas much stronger, and makes clear its intentions for the next two films and exactly what will be at stake for all the characters involved, which is exciting. With the next book split into two films, it will be interesting to see how it all resolves. But for now, Catching Fire is a mostly satisfying (middle) chapter in this well above average franchise.