Being the bridging story that linked the fresh original with the explosive finale (which itself is split in two parts), Catching Fire has a tough gig. This second instalment has to work pretty damn hard to justify its existence, bar making a tonne of money, of course, and it does so by simply packing in a wealth of material.
A haunted Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) fill out their post Games obligations by touring the districts with party-approved speeches. However, inspired by their flouting of the Games' rules, the districts bubble with dissention and in the hope of silencing the people, President Snow (Sutherland) plans to kill rebellious symbol Katniss off with a change to this year's Games: former winners will be pitted against each other in a much crueller game.
It's a sequel that's meatier than most, delving into character and expanding on the universe, but thankfully not in a Tron Legacy/Matrix Reloaded way. It's content to spend time laying the groundwork so by the time Round Two comes about, offering new perils in electrified invisible walls, poisonous fog and psychological tortures, there are shaky alliances and expected betrayals in the mix. While Katniss' allies and enemies this time around - Jeffery Wright, Jena Malone and Sam Clafin - can smack of underdeveloped sequel fodder, Phillip Seymour Hoffman turns up with a respectable hairstyle to add his class to the proceedings.
Catching Fire may have lots of material to offer, which will appeal to the fans who approach these adaptations with a checklist, but it does pack in so much more than it needs. A lot of time is devoted still to the X Factor/celebrity obsession parody of the parades and TV slots, but there's a sneaking feeling that it is half in love with the soulless tacky gaudiness of it all; it's telling that it is Katniss' stylist (Lenny Kravitz), not her mentor (Harrelson), who offers her the last words of encouragement before the Games begin. From time to time, it can get lost in itself with information that we know will be essential in future instalments but slow things down right here.
A bloodless and chaste actioner, Catching Fire might lack the original's freshness but there is still plenty here to be getting on with.