What are the odds? Like Katniss Everdeen ducking a poison-tip arrow, the keepers of Suzanne Collins’s trilogy of fantasy novels have dodged the perils of the sloppy second franchise film. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is leaner, gutsier and smarter. In hand-to-hand combat, it would have the first film on the floor, trapped in a headlock, whimpering for mercy. Over two-and-a-half heart-pounding hours, it doesn’t drag for a second.

A hefty chunk of the story is similar to the last one – except this time there’s more to lose. Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss, whose defiance has revolution a brewin’ in the districts. President Snow (Donald Sutherland, playing evil Santa) can hear the howl of fury rising. ‘Would you like to be in a real war?’ he threatens, shark-eyes glinting. Snow puts his snakish sidekick (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on the job of devising a new version of the Games to eliminate Katniss – a champions’ championship.

J-Law burns the screens. She’s stunning, suggesting a storm raging behind her eyes and powerfully conveying Katniss’s terror of leading the revolution. She’s no Bella Swan. Instead of batting her eyelashes at love interests Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, less drippy this time), she shoos them away to focus on staying alive.

The Games are more fun to watch this time around. In The Hunger Games we got a bunch of samey-looking teenagers fighting to the death. This is the Olympics of Hunger Games, with the best of the best up against each other, like Usain Bolt with daggers in his Pumas.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Duration: 146 mintues
Released: Nov 21st
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Jack Quaid, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Woody Harrelson, Paula Malcomson
Language: English
Classification: PG15
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1951264
4 5 1