The first film in the series was an OK dystopian science fiction adventure aimed (like the trilogy of novels the films are based on) primarily at an adolescent audience, but this sequel is quite a lot better, with more depth and complexity, and not incidentally placing additional demands on the actors, especially the star, Jennifer Lawrence, whose excellent performance adds humanity and nuance.
The story is set in a future America ruled by a central metropolis called, with arrogantly bad spelling, The Capitol. In continuing punishment for a rebellion against The Capitol 75 years earlier, each of the country’s 12 districts is required to send one male and one female teenager as “tribute” to battle to the death in the annual Hunger Games, a multi-day combination gladiatorial contest and reality television show. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) survived last year’s Games—hardly a surprise if you’ve seen the poster for this film—and became hugely popular in the process. At the start of this film she’s sent on a victory tour during which she gradually realizes that she’s become the focus of a revolutionary sentiment building among the populations of the districts, especially the poorer ones.
This rather annoys head bad guy President Snow (Donald Sutherland), so to discourage rebellion he orders a zero-tolerance crackdown on even the mildest dissent (beatings will continue until morale improves and that sort of thing), and he threatens her loved ones to get Katniss to cooperate in distracting people from their grievances.
She responds not with predictable heroic defiance but as a real human being desperate to save herself and her family and friends, which makes her later heroism all the more believable and admirable.
This was the top grossing film of 2013, and it’s surprising to note that the previous box-office winner to give top billing to an actress was The Exorcist in 1973, and the last one to focus primarily on a female protagonist was The Sound of Music in 1965. There’s probably no precedent among box office winners in the science fiction or adventure genres.