Second verse of ‘Hunger Games’ is predictable stuff

By Gary Clift

Second verse, same as the first. The second “Hunger Games” movie, “Catching Fire,” is a continuation of the story of a near-future world in which the government uses a brutal televised game to distract the public from economic collapse.

In length (it is five minutes longer than its predecessor) and structure, the new movie is very like the original one. If you are a thirteen-year-old girl or can channel one, this is probably good news. The new film is also like the old one in that it brings back most of the characters and in that it prefers to suggest its dramatic events rather than to show them.

Oh, it’s still a little bloody. But I don’t think it is as gory as was the first film. And while it is set in a world in revolt, all that action happens off-screen. Even the violence of the much glorified game of knock-out is mostly remote. Our heroine, Katnip (I think that’s her name), is an archer, after all.

New director Francis Lawrence (who is guilty of having made “I Am Legend,” and “Water for Elephants”) tries to make up for not showing us revolution in the streets and hand-to-hand combat in the jungle by dumping beau coup tons of money into the costumes and sets and make-up for the film. More money than taste in that make-up.

Lawrence also has considerable acting power to help distract us from the movie’s focus. Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katnip, but more to the point, “Catching Fire” has Josh Hutcherson (Pita), Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland (as the easily conned dictator), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci (gleefully over-tanned), the great Amanda Plummer, and Toby Jones. Jena Malone was inserted and she gives the movie a character with a little backbone and sex appeal.

The entertainment features a Rocky plot (about preparation for and participation in a competition which finishes at the story’s climax), rags-to-relative-riches Cinderella details, and a reality TV show element that recalls the “up-close and personal” mini-biographies which long ago took over the majority of t.v. time during Olympics broadcasts.

And just to make sure the girl audience is intrigued, the athletic girl heroine has two love interests she repeatedly kisses. All friendly greetings are hugs.

The President is worried at the beginning of the film. For some reason that never made any sense to me, the starving people have fixed on killer game show heroine Katnip as a symbol of their discontent. The boss wants to get rid of her. He agrees to go along with his new producer of the annual Hunger Games to make contestants of recent, mostly youthful winners, including our heroine.

They are taken to the Emerald City where they prepare by doing the equivalent of running with a boxer dog, punching beef sides, and climbing Philly steps. Then they are sent by pneumatic tube to a clock-face lake in a jungle, where lighting strikes the same tree every day and where the contestants work to survive long enough to kill each other off.

Katnip and Pita go into an alliance with several other contestants. Later we will discover that, for reasons never made clear, our heroes don’t know that a conspiracy of their fellow participants is at work in all of this.

Meanwhile, outside the dome that covers the jungle, there is fighting in the streets. Or so we hear. About all we ever know about the rebels is that they have adopted Katnip’s “mocking-jay” pen as a logo (which they use stencils to spray paint in railway tunnels), that they hold up three fingers like Boy Scouts (though they don’t do the Scout Oath), and that at least one of them whistles four tones.

The game proper doesn’t begin until two hours into the showing. Katnip does actually shoot arrows into a couple of threatening contestants and baboons. But the fighting action we see in the film takes just minutes. We spend more time watching her kinetic frocks—one of them catches decorative fire when she pushes the remote and one, a wedding dress, turns into a costume from “The Black Swan.”

In the end the story of Katnip’s increasing public significance has moved forward a little. And the natural audience for this very popular movie is all set up for the coming two-part finale. Predictably.

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