The future is grim; the masses are suffering; the rich are prospering. A TV game show keeps most entertained, but at a price.
Yes, the much hyped, YA global sensation Hunger Games is back for a sequel, and once more Jennifer Lawrence is magnificent as the heroine, Katniss Everdeen.
What's far less magnificent is the story.
After winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta Mellark return to their bleak home neighbourhood, District 12.
Before starting a victory tour of the country, twisted President Snow (Donald Sutherland) explains that because she broke the rules, Katniss inspired district rebellions, so must pretend to be in love with Peeta or her loved ones will die.
Every 25 years The Hunger Games has a 'Quarter Quell', and the latest rule means contestants will be chosen from previous winners.
Katniss, Peeta and assorted other warriors are fired off to a lake where they fight for survival, mostly against each other and assorted other predators and perils.
A dystopian melange of Battle Royale, Running Man, Rollerball, Lost, Under the Dome and Truman Show, it's all a bit too familiar.
As for the obligatory love triangle between nice but dull Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss and Thor-alike hunk Gale (Liam Hemsworth), it's occasionally touching but hardly the greatest romance ever told.
I had a lot of goodwill going into Catching Fire. The original was a surprise treat, a slow burner that led to a frisson of excitement for part two.
Trouble is it feels like more of the same with a host of peripheral characters who look like they're going to go somewhere, but don't. Or maybe they do for the final two-part chapter. I don't really care.
Franchise newcomers aren't given much of a recap, which may be no bad thing.
The twist in the arena setting is refreshing, and the finale mostly engaging, but it's not enough to warrant two plus hours.
All dramas need levity, but there's very little here. The fact so much is set in a digitally graded darkness was also annoying.
Thankfully most of the cast is great.
Old pros like Stanley Tucci (as the brilliantly named Caesar Flickerman) and Philip Seymour Hoffman chew the scenery, while Woody Harrelson dials down his manic performance as Katniss's usually sozzled mentor.
Lenny Kravitz is effortlessly cool as her dress designer, and Jeffrey Wright adds gravitas as one of the smarter contestants. It took me a while to recognise Amanda Plummer, but as soon as I did she started babbling like a lunatic. A shame.
The third act, like much of the film, plods along, and just when you think things are getting somewhere, it ends.
Rather aptly Coldplay wrap up the closing titles with a generic tune which summed up my indifference.
For me Lawrence is the most dynamic young American actress working today. Without her this would have have been excruciating.
The fact it took $307million in its first three days means cast and crew are breathing a lot easier, but I wonder how many non-book fans will be impressed.
For me Catching Fire was more of a damp squib that squandered some great ideas.
Let's hope for a vast improvement in Mockingjay.
I'm one of the few movie lovers not counting the days until it's released.
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