Book’s good. Movie’s better. Wait, what?
A sequel that unexpectedly improves on its predecessor, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a muscular, engrossing, powerfully bleak epic, directed with urgency and a skilled eye by Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”). Starring Jennifer Lawrence as reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen, the movie takes pains to show its young mass audience what living under a totalitarian dictatorship might look and feel like. And the spectacle of a future society amusing itself to death—of “reality games” and the vapid media hysteria that surrounds them—stingingly references our own televised bread and circuses. At its best, “Catching Fire” is a blockbuster that bites the culture that made it. With Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and Jena Malone. Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.