THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (PG13)
The story: The second movie based on the best-selling novels sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) sent on a victory tour of Panem, following their joint win in the annual Hunger Games. Under threat of retaliation from President Snow (Donald Sutherland), she and Peeta must keep up the appearance of being in love with each other, to keep the restive populace entertained and distracted. Amid growing signs of civil unrest, they are forced by Snow's government to take part in one more deadly gladiatorial contest, the Quarter Quell, featuring an all-star roster of past winners.
Last year's The Hunger Games made the cinema safe again for grown-ups in the area of movie adaptations of young-adult fantasy fiction, a genre rife with sparkly vampires and computer-drawn sea monsters.
The second book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy of young-adult novels set in a totalitarian future gets the same treatment here, but at the hands of a different director, Francis Lawrence. Gary Ross, who helmed the first movie, left to pursue other projects.
Prestigious new talent also makes an appearance on the writing team in the form of Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008; 127 Hours, 2010) co-penning the screen adaptation.
Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, 2007) has kept the brooding quality of the first film. But in fairness, he has been dealt a better hand than Ross (Seabiscuit, 2003).
The story in the second book is now mostly free of the earnest, poorly sketched drama weighing down the backstory of Katniss (Lawrence), moving swiftly through her games triumph and deeper into the circle of President Snow (Sutherland) and the members of her games team.
However, her few scenes taking place in District 12, showing her closeness with her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) and her mother (Paula Malcomsen), feel as inauthentic as in the first film, and seem included to satisfy fans of the novels.
There must have been a struggle to trim the film to its two-hour-plus running time; brand-name actors like Toby Jones appear and are gone in a flash and the intrigue that runs beneath the Quarter Quell games feels crammed in.
Elizabeth Banks returns as games escort Effie Trinket, a part she plays in the persona of a headmistress of a Victorian-era girl's boarding school while costumed like a Harajuku coquette.
The chirpy Trinket is an odd match with the severe Katniss, but the pairing works.
Less successful is Katniss' match with Hutcherson, playing the eternal second fiddle Peeta. But that is perhaps the point.
The hunkier Liam Hemsworth, as Katniss' on-off romantic interest Gale Hawthorne, wanders in every so often to keep the passion pot on the boil.
His part as pining male, occasionally in need of rescue by Katniss, is a neat gender role reversal.
While it is not as interestingly presented as it could have been, it is one factor that sets this young-adult series apart from the rest.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.