Trouble percolates as Panem inhabitants suffer to various degrees over the usual: insufficient food, forced labor, and no freedom. To distract and defuse the dissension, a 75-year anniversary welcomes a special Quarter Quell featuring previous game winners, an opportunity wasted to introduce exciting, threatening new players and develop them to a level of absorbing complexity. Instead, it takes an hour of this overly long two-and-a-half hours to get into the contest. Meantime, scenes spin their wheels lingering on a conflicted Katniss, torn between romantic interests Peeta and Gale.
Director Francis Lawrence presents all this with attempts at infusing energy into dull scenes. The camera moves, characters parade around looking lost in the effects, and President Snow caustically spews out directives. Ho Hum. The repetitive story sinks because of Simon Beaufoy and (an author wisely hiding behind a pseudonym) Michael deBruyn's script from Suzanne Collins' trilogy. They fail to move the story at a brisk pace or to focus on clever, intelligent ways to outfox threats. Instead, our protagonists run. A killer fog creeps forward. Run. Ferocious monkeys attack; fight and run. Screeching birds strike. Run. Antagonists appear. Run.
Further enervating events, cinematographer Jo Willems and editor Alan Edward Bell linger much too long on reaction shots of Katniss, played again by Jennifer Lawrence who struggles for the necessary complexity. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the game master, could have it, but doesn't. Nor can brief scenes with Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson resuscitate the series despite James Newton Howard's incessant music telegraphing how to react.
Sequels in popular series are, of course, always risky endeavors. New actors must mesh with established ones; stars must successfully reinvigorate familiar characters. But "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" only treads water, waiting for part three. At area cinemas.