AFP – The dystopian universe of “The Hunger Games” returns to cinema screens Monday, aiming to harness the star power of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and convey an unambiguous message of youthful rebellion.
After the phenomenal success in 2012 of the first film adapted from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels, Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, the teenage heroine pitched into a deadly battle for survival in the macabre post-apocalyptic kingdom of Panem.
Produced by Lionsgate studio, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will be looking to match the stellar performance of the first installment of the franchise, which took in $693 million worldwide last year.
The film makes its global premiere in London on Monday before being released worldwide in various markets throughout November.
The first movie saw Katniss and her friend Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson, emerge as the winners of the 74th “Hunger Games”, a fight to the death organized by the evil rulers of Panem.
The latest film sees the duo fighting for their lives once more, all the while cultivating the seeds of a rebellion amongst Panem’s youth, setting up the climactic showdown of the third novel “Mockingjay”, which will be split into two films due for release in 2014 and 2015.
Lawrence says she believes the film’s themes of youthful revolt carry a universal appeal that will strike a chord with audiences.
“It’s very easy as a society for us to just kind of follow the feet in front of us,” the actress told a press conference in Beverly Hills.
“History does kind of repeat itself and I think that’s an important message for the younger generation to see how important they are into shaping our society in the future.
“It’s a wonderful example for young adults to say ‘you don’t have to follow the feet in front of you’. Even though you can seem like the only one, even just one voice is enough to say, ‘That’s wrong,'” added the 23-year-old, who was crowned best actress at the Oscars in February for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Hutcherson echoed his co-star’s views, saying the film would serve as an effective rallying cry for young people everywhere.
“You’re surrounded by so much ‘in your face’ truths from around the world about issues that are happening. And (young people) are also told how they have to be by the media, and I think that this movie shows that you can go against the flow,” Hutcherson said.
Hollywood legend Donald Sutherland, who plays the evil autocratic ruler of Panem, said he was attracted to the franchise by its dark thematic landscape.
“For me, it was essential to become a part of this because it more clearly represents the dangers of an oligarchy of the privileged that anything I’ve seen in a long time,” said the 78-year-old Canadian star.
The film sees the cast from the first movie return en masse, with the likes of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz all back in character.
However Gary Ross, the director of the first film, has passed the reins to Francis Lawrence, whose previous credits include another futuristic blockbuster “I Am Legend” and the 2011 period drama “Water for Elephants.”
Producer Nina Jacobson says the change of director will not affect the tone of the franchise over the course of the remaining films, saying the story remains firmly anchored in the character of Katniss.
“The heart of these movies is Katniss’s point of view and as long as you remain firmly in her shoes, it will always give you the consistency throughout,” Jacobson said.
Lawrence meanwhile remains grateful for the opportunity to play the role of a lifetime, which has helped catapult her into a new world of fame.
“We already had ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’, we did know what to expect to a certain extent,” Lawrence said.
“If I was going to be identified for a character for the rest of my life, well, I love this character, I’m proud of her and I would be proud to be associated with this movie and this character for the rest of my life.”
Lawrence meanwhile admitted her newly minted status as an Oscar-winning actress had led to some on-set teasing from co-star Harrelson.
“Every time I messed up my lines he was like, ‘You’d better give that Oscar back!'” she revealed.