There's one big reason to wildly anticipate the sequel to "The Hunger Games." Jennifer Lawrence is now an Oscar winner (for her role in the "Silver Linings Playbook" since the last movie. And, she doesn't disappoint; Lawrence is the reason to see "Catching Fire."
This time, there's more at stake for Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) than losing her life in brutal "Survivor" like games put on by the tyrannical president Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Her superstar status has made her a hero among the people of the controlled Districts, and Snow, head of the future state of Panem, isn't taking too kindly to it.
This is one of those sequels that will leave first timers lost if they haven't been clued in to what happened previously – quick Cliff Notes: In a dystopian future where the middle class has ceased to exist, teenagers are forced to battle to their deaths for the television entertainment of the privileged class. But the filmmakers don't pay any mind to those who might be clueless – the ante is upped from the get go so just hold onto your hats. There are times that the 2 ½ hour movie drags a bit, but the surrounding pieces make it so much worth the while that it's never tedious.
Woody Harrelson returns as Haymitch Abernathy, playing a former Games champ who is more washed up and more drunken than ever. The last Games have taken a toll on him, and now he has to train a team again. His character adds to the heightened anxiety that's so pervasive. Liam Hemsworth returns as Katniss's dashing love interest, Gale. Josh Hutcherson is Peeta, the girl's game mate, whom she had to feign a love relationship with so that the games' ratings would soar. This time around, the love affairs have become a tangled web, caught up in real emotion and the upheaval of political turbulence.
The circus atmosphere continues as it did in the first with Elizabeth Banks' Effie, the media trainer for the pair, costumed to the nines by Trish Summerville, who puts her in an Alexander McQueen dress that is to die for. Stanley Tucci's fake teeth are even whiter this time around as he chuckles and chirps as the obnoxious television host Caesar – "don't you just love it!" Lenny Kravitz is also back in his minor role as Katniss's personal fashion designer, Cinna.
The popularity of the first film no doubt made it more attractive to some Hollywood veterans: Philip Seymour Hoffman joins the cast as a new gamemaker, and Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer team up as former Games winners and technical wizards, Beetee and Wiress.
The games are bigger and badder than ever, too -- screaming birds, poison gas and raging baboons. "Catching Fire" is a real sizzler.