In the thrilling sequel THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, Katniss Everdeen and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark have barely returned home after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games when they are whisked away once again by the Capitol. Forced to leave her family and best friend Gale, Katniss is dispatched on a victory tour of Panem with Peeta, where rebellion is seething in all 12 districts. The Capitol is enraged and ready to strike back... as President Snow prepares the most diabolical edition of the Hunger Games yet.
When it comes to blockbuster franchises, the first sequel frequently offers pumped-up versions of the initial thrills--to diminishing results. Catching Fire, however, the second adaptation drawn from Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, defies that trend with more finely drawn relationships. With the 74th Games in the history books, Katniss (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, as comfortable in warrior garb as in designer couture) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, better than ever) set out on a victory tour across Panem with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). Despite her best efforts to feign romance with her co-competitor and to keep posttraumatic stress at bay, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) fears that Katniss's defiant nature will incite rebellion, so he takes a tip from new gamemaker Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and launches a Quarter Quell in which past champions, such as the hilariously bitter Johanna (Jena Malone) and the deceptively arrogant Finnick (Sam Claflin), will fight to the death. Not all tributes are quite so young, like Mags (Lynn Cohen), a senior citizen who suits up for battle and establishes a touching bond with Finnick (Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer play the craftiest teammates). Until the cliffhanger ending, director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) serves up an array of splendors, from killer baboons to the ever-amazing outfits of Effie and Caesar (Stanley Tucci). Most significantly, the script from cowriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) strengthens the bonds between Katniss and Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who prove themselves more worthy than ever of Katniss's affections. --Kathleen C. Fennessy