‘Catching Fire’ is a better ‘Hunger Games’ than ‘The Hunger Games’

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson once again prove that the costume design of "The Hunger Games" world is pretty delightful. Credit: Murray Close
Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson once again prove that the costume design of “The Hunger Games” world is pretty delightful.
Credit: Murray Close

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Most of what happened in “The Hunger Games” happens in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” On the page — which is to say, in Suzanne Collins’ book — it’s pure rehash. Once again, teenage archery enthusiast Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) — growing up in a post-something dystopia where the government is heartless and everyone has funny names — is reluctantly whisked away on a parody of a press tour, then fights to the death inside a tricked-out dome. The difference is slight: Instead of kids, Katniss plus boring nice guy Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) fight former “Hunger Game” champs. Many of them are adults (like Jeffrey Wright!) and one of them is Miranda’s judgmental older nanny from “Sex and the City” (Lynn Cohen).

But the first “Hunger Games” was a bit of a botch — mannered, stiff and distractingly non-gory. A second film is a second chance to do it right. And as it happens, “Catching Fire” is a better “Hunger Games” than “The Hunger Games,” as well as a better “Catching Fire” than the book.

The first film’s director, Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit”), is good with American nostalgia but at sea with Collins’ world. He had no feel for the Ken Russell flamboyance of the Capitol, and definitely no feel for action. New boss Francis Lawrence is no master; he made the moderately distinguished “Constantine” and “I Am Legend,” plus “Water for Elephants.” But he knows his way around an action scene without getting tripped up, as Ross did.

The second film is considerably less violent, which is oddly a good thing. Once again it takes more than half the film to get Katniss et al inside the arena, this time a more tropical world plagued by poisonous fog, angry baboons and a lack of drinkable water. But the players are encouraged to form packs and stick together. And if that means less violence, it also means less painfully awkward sanitized-for-young-adults PG-13 violence.

Everything’s better this time. Lawrence, slightly uncomfortable in the first one, is given more to do. Elizabeth Banks, as obliviously peppy escort Effie Trinket, gets unexpected hints of humanity, her spirits crumbling as the downtrodden lower districts begin revolting. Then again, like the first, it can be a tease. A fearsome Hunger Gamer who chiseled her teeth into fangs is memorably introduced, then gets to do precisely nada. And the odd presence of Oscar-winning genius Philip Seymour Hoffman (who wins this film’s most impressively strained “futuristic” name: Plutarch Heavensbee) is too obviously a plant for future installments.

The abrupt ending is a problem, too. “Catching Fire” builds up a head of steam, and at only a few points does it feel its ridiculous 148-minute length. And then it just stops. Middle episodes in trilogies are by nature put in an undesirable position, but the best — “Empire Strikes Back” being the high watermark — find a strong note to close on before the action resumes in the future. This just shrugs and says, “See you in a year!” Nuts to that.


Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking


K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.


Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.


Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.


Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.


Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…


Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…


2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…


NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…


Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.


Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.


Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.


Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.


Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.