‘Hunger Games’ sequel as hard-hitting as the first

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Pictured: Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence. See PA Feature DVD DVD Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK Ltd. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature DVD DVD Reviews.
Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Pictured: Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence. See PA Feature DVD DVD Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK Ltd. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature DVD DVD Reviews.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to District 12 to steal a kiss from her beau, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), before returning to the Victors’ Village to continue her fake romance with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is waiting for her and threatens Gale’s life if Katniss steps out of line. Flanked by booze-sodden mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and sartorially daring escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta tour the districts, scenting rebellion in the air.

Meanwhile, Snow recruits a new Games creator, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to stage a special anniversary tournament known as the Quarter Quell, which will pit the darlings of District 12 against former winners in the ultimate duel of death.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ is a lean and muscular sequel, which strikes a pleasing balance between brawn and brains.

It is every bit as unrelentingly grim and brutal as the first film, including a wince-inducing scene of flagellation at the hands of a sadistic commander and a moment of heartbreaking self-sacrifice.

The script invests precious time in developing sinewy emotional bonds between characters and turns up the heat on the central love triangle to a brisk simmer, while Lawrence and Hutcherson expertly navigate their characters’ conflicting emotions.

Francis Lawrence’s sequel whets our appetites nicely for the devastation and tragedy in the concluding chapter, ‘Mockingjay’.

A two-disc set comprising both films so far in the series is also available.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ (Cert 12, 140 mins, Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK Ltd, Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller/Romance, also available to buy DVD £19.99/2-Disc DVD £22.99/2-Movie DVD Set £24.99/Blu-ray & DVD Combi-Pack £26.99/Limited Edition Blu-ray & DVD Combi-Pack Steelbook £29.99/2-Movie Blu-ray Set £32.99); Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lynn Cohen, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Willow Shields, Lenny Kravitz, Patrick St Esprit.