‘Hunger Games’ catches fire in 2nd go-round

Part Two of this saga still hasn’t figured out how to reconcile being a big-budget spectacle of violence while criticizing big-budget spectacles of violence.

But “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is an improvement over 2012’s Part One, even if designed and executed as a place-holder (complete with cliffhanger ending) rather than a full-blooded story on its own.

In the first installment we met the tragically named Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who triumphed in the annual Hunger Games staged by an evil dictator (Donald Sutherland) and his media-savvy minions.

Katniss had to kill her competitors in the games, save for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), with whom she feigned love interest in order to survive.

The two victors, and their drunky mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), are now paraded around in a Soviet-style pacification of the downtrodden audience, and eventually sucked back into another round of the games.

Despite the lopsided structure of the 146-minute movie, the thing manages to sustain some momentum as it goes along — in no small part thanks to Lawrence’s complete commitment to this pulpy material. And director Francis (“I Am Legend”) Lawrence’s style is an upgrade over the previous film’s phony camera jitters.

We also get a new supporting cast with some surprisingly top-shelf talent: Philip Seymour Hoffman as a games designer, Jeffrey Wright and Jena Malone as former games victors, and newcomer/sure-thing breakout star Sam Claflin as a potential third romantic possibility for Katniss (Liam Hemsworth is around again as her small-town beau, once again sidelined from the real action).

“Catching Fire” uncorks a few genuinely exciting revelations in the final minutes, which aren’t quite enough to cover the absence of an actual climax for this story.

But after years of the “Twilight” movies, the audience should be prepared for that. The real goal here is to have a DVD box set, which can be power-watched as a marathon. (The final book in Suzanne Collins’ literary trilogy, “Mockingjay,” will be split into two films, so next time expect even more treading water.)

I still don’t understand why we never see anybody in the movie actually watching the Hunger Games, given their place in this society’s culture. But the franchise has to be careful with that — criticizing the audience for its taste in mindless distraction is probably not the wisest path to blockbuster success.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (3 stars)

Part two of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series is an improvement over the 2012 original; despite a lopsided structure, it maintains some momentum and has some truly exciting revelations in its final minutes, along with the committed presence of leading lady Jennifer Lawrence.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Casdcade Mall, Oak Harbor.

More in Life

‘Last Jedi’ is the best ‘Star Wars’ movie since the first one

This instant-classic popcorn movie makes clever references to the past while embracing the new.

Jesse Sykes brings her evolving sounds to Cafe Zippy in Everett

She and Phil Wandscher make a return trip to a club that she values for its intimacy.

Take a closer look: Winter gardens share gifts in subtle way

Go on a neighborhood walk this month to enjoy the seasonal beauty offered by a variety of gardens.

Red wine usually costs more, but you can still find bargains

Here are five good-quality reds that won’t drain your grocery budget.

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter and Blood of My Enemies

Aesir Meadery of Everett and Whiskey Ridge Brewing of Arlington collaborated to make two braggots.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Ugly Sweater Party and Canned Food Drive at Whitewall: Marysville’s Whitewall Brewing… Continue reading

Student winners to perform concertos with Mukilteo orchestra

This annual show is a partnership with the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association.

‘Ferdinand’ a modern take on the beloved children’s story

The lovable bull is back in an enjoyable but spotty animated film from the makers of “Ice Age.”

Great Plant Pick: Pinus contorta var. contorta, shore pine

What: Who is not impressed by the beauty and toughness of this… Continue reading

Most Read