The film adaptation of the second book in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling Hunger Games series opened in theatres last weekend, and it was every bit worth the wait. It was one of the most anticipated films of the year, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does not disappoint. In my opinion, it’s firmly better than the first instalment of the series.

The film opens in District 12, one year after the events of the first movie. Katniss and Peeta, the victors of the last Hunger Games, try to settle into a normal life after their traumatic experiences in the arena. It soon becomes clear, however, that their lives have been irreversibly changed.

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson reprise their roles as Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the star-crossed lovers of District 12 and the only people in Panem’s history to share the title of Hunger Games victor. Joining them are Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the quirky mentor, and Elizabeth Banks as Effie, the image consultant. They help Katniss and Peeta navigate the Capitol’s complex politics and settle into their new roles as public figures expected to spread the Capitol’s propaganda. New to the cast are Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna, victors of previous Hunger Games. Director Francis Lawrence replaced Gary Ross for this instalment, and while the changes in style are subtle, they make a huge impact.

Like the first film, Catching Fire opens with Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) hunting in the woods, but it’s immediately clear that everything is not back to normal. Catching Fire focuses on politics much more than its predecessor. We see a society on the brink of a great upheaval, struggling to hold together, and a complicated relationship between appearances and the truth. The conflict between President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Katniss is a definite highlight of the movie; their interactions are summed up perfectly by the new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), as “moves and countermoves”.

All the actors deliver great performances, each delving a little deeper into their character and revealing more as they face harder times and higher stakes. Lawrence in particular stands out in her portrayal of Katniss struggling to find a balance between playing her part in upholding the Capitol’s image and holding on to who she is. And newcomers Claflin and Malone play Finnick and Johanna with the depth they have in the books, convincingly portraying them as characters who are already well-versed in upholding appearances and playing the part the Capitol expects from them.

A notable improvement from the first film, as many will be happy to see, is the disappearance of the widely criticized “shaky camera”. Aside from that, the visuals match the stunning and disturbing ones of the first film. Overall, Catching Fire takes the story to an entirely different level. The stakes are higher and there are twists at every turn. By the end of the film, you’ll be left in disbelief and desperate to see what comes next. MMMM