Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been to hell and back and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” wastes no time by showing us how she was affected from participating in the horrific event put on by the Capitol every year.

But things aren’t hunky dory for Katniss yet. In fact, they’re far from it. On top of dealing with how distant she and her old friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) have become, she must also prepare to embark on the Victory Tour alongside her co-victor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and look into the faces of the families of the children who didn’t survive the Games.

When President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss he warns her that she must uphold the lie that she and Peeta are madly in love for the sake of the Capitol maintaining control over the districts and for the safety of those closest to her.

However, Katniss has become a symbol of rebellion to the people of Panem through her actions at the end of the first film. Which lead Snow and his new head gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to decide that all victors pose a threat and that they must be eliminated.

The 75th annual Hunger Games is here, indicating a special Quarter Quell event that happens every 25 years. What’s so special about this year’s Games? The tributes from each district are to be reaped from the existing pool of victors. And so, once again, Katniss is thrown in to compete, this time against 23 other victors from the other districts along with Peeta.

Let’s get this out of the way right now, the shaky cam is gone and the action is filmed in a more steady, traditional manner. And although the film was taken on by a different director this time around (Francis Lawrence), the bleak tone of Panem and the manufactured happiness brought on by the Capitol is still maintained and even expanded upon from the first film.

What is really touched upon in this second installment is just how twisted and sad this scenario is.

Structurally, the film is similar to the first, but the same could be said for the first two books. However, new characters and characterizations brought on by a stellar cast help separate the two films.

Among the newcomers is Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), a narcissistic fellow competitor who, on the surface is good looking and charming, but yet still someone who has gone through the same torment as Katniss.

Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz expertly portray Haymitch and Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci nail their roles as Effie and Caesar.

The stakes are higher than ever, the Games, even more lethal. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a very strong installment in this series.

Extremely emotional moments, action packed sequences and amazing acting from a strong cast are all notable, as well as the film’s ability to stay very true to the book, even more so than the first one. A nine out of ten.

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