KATNISS Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to District 12 to steal a kiss from her beau, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), before returning to the Victors' Village to continue her fake romance with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is waiting for her and threatens Gale's life if Katniss steps out of line.
Flanked by booze-sodden mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and sartorially daring escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta tour the districts, sensing rebellion in the air.
Meanwhile, Snow recruits a new Games creator, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to stage a special anniversary tournament known as the Quarter Quell, which will pit the darlings of District 12 against former winners in the ultimate duel of death. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a lean and muscular sequel, which strikes a pleasing balance between brawn and brains.
It is every bit as unrelentingly grim and brutal as the first film, including a wince-inducing scene of flagellation at the hands of a sadistic commander (Patrick St Esprit) and a moment of heartbreaking self-sacrifice.
Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy's script invest precious time in developing sinewy emotional bonds between characters and turns up the heat on the central love triangle to a brisk simmer, while Lawrence and Hutcherson expertly navigate their characters' conflicting emotions, leavened by comic relief courtesy of Stanley Tucci as flamboyant TV host Caesar Flickerman.
Francis Lawrence's sequel whets our appetites nicely for devastation and tragedy in the concluding chapter, Mockingjay.
A two-disc set comprising both films so far in the series is also available.