DVD Release Date: March 7, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: November 22, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language)
Genre: Sequel/Dystopian adventure
Run Time: 146 min.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Toby Jones, Jena Malone

Considering how movies with even a modicum of box office success get a second chapter these days, it's a particularly rare feat when a sequel actually manages to surpass its predecessor in every possible way.

And for The Hunger Games faithful, the millions of devoted readers who plowed through Suzanne Collins' bestselling trilogy and couldn't wait for the series to come to life on the big screen, what's particularly unusual about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that it's basically the filmmakers' second chance to make a great first impression.

Aside from a couple of minor plotting caveats, Catching Fire follows the same structure, beat for beat, of last year's Hunger Games. What helps in carving out a brand new identity for the franchise is an upgrade in, well, everything. In addition to recruiting a director with stronger visual sensibilities (Francis Lawrence of I Am Legend fame replaces Gary Ross), securing a bigger budget and kicking to the curb the more amateurish elements from the original (those embarrassing CGI dogs, for instance), the screenwriters have also given the audience more of a reason to care about the people of Panem... and their plight.

Oh, there's still a significant disconnect in telling a Lord-of-the-Flies-meets-The-Lottery story about kids killing kids in a largely bloodless, safe-for-the-family PG-13 format, but it's the deeper themes (the skewering of our celebrity-obsessed culture, in particular) lurking beneath Catching Fire's surface that offer a surprisingly relevant takeaway.

CrosswalkMovies: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Video Movie Review from crosswalkmovies on GodTube.

Fresh off her Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence is far more of a confident scene-stealer as the story's feisty but reluctant hero, Katniss Everdeen. Months after fighting to the death and emerging victorious along with her fellow District 12 compadre Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), Katniss is still understandably rattled by the barbaric event. For her, bad dreams are the new normal, and while Katniss's bravery is popular with the locals, outsmarting the Capitol didn't exactly endear her—or Panem's outlying districts—to President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Horrible Bosses).