Starving for more

An entertaining placeholder in The Hunger Games franchise

Who’s in for parts three and four?

Who’s in for parts three and four?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Before any Hunger Games fanatics get honked-off about my rating of Catching Fire, I should point out that: one, it’s a perfectly fine rating; and two, the film lost points due to the way The Hunger Games franchise is being strung out. I’m not a fan of spending four years watching a narrative, and while the first entry was self-contained, this second installment is pretty much 2 1/2 hours of setting up the next two entries.

In part one, Jennifer Lawrence was a pleasant surprise as Katniss, Woody Harrelson dialed down his Woodyness, and Katniss slept through most of her competitors’ deaths (which right there differentiates it from the enduring comparisons to its Japanese doppelganger, 2000’s Battle Royale). All in all, it was a surprisingly well-structured entertainment.

As a bridge, Catching Fire is in itself entertaining, but suffers in that it gets us only to the midway point of a story that ends in 2015.

Anyway, open ending aside, there are aspects of Catching Fire that I appreciated. Oddly enough, I respect that they didn’t recap the first movie and just kept moving with the narrative. Here we rejoin Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) as they spend some quality time hunting in the woods while the second narrative arc kicks in. It seems that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) isn’t too happy with Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—gawd, this story has some silly names—escaping his deadly machinations and sowing the seeds of revolution, so he brings in the ultimate game designer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to whip up a li’l something that clears the slate of all the past winners of the Hunger Games. Like all despots, he has a piss-poor idea of how to tamp down rebellion.

No one is happy about this situation, but since we’re dealing with a dystopian police state here (I also appreciate that this franchise introduces its young audience to allegory), there’s nothing anyone can do about it unless they want their families offed. So it’s back into the arena, and this time the emphasis is more on the game versus the competitors, than the competitors going after each other. As per the first film, Katniss’ enemies are eliminated offscreen, which is probably meant to maintain the PG-13 rating. But, as the roster of the prior night’s casualties flash across the sky, any connection with the characters existing as anything other than clay pigeons rings hollow. We were never given anything but a rudimentary introduction to most of them, so their deaths are nothing but a footnote.

On the other hand, Catching Fire moves along cracklingly enough for a 2 1/2-hour entertainment. Hoffman is a fine Machiavellian addition, and the filmmakers have bumped up their game.