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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One teenage girl and her bow and arrow become a mighty symbol for revolution in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," as Hollywood's reigning young adult franchise goes deeper and darker to explore the impact of violence on a community.
"Catching Fire," out in theaters on November 22, is based on the second novel in the "Hunger Games" trilogy by author Suzanne Collins, set in the dystopian futuristic society of Panem, where the government forces 24 children to annually fight to the death in a live televised event.
In the new film, heroine Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and her partner Peeta Mellark have returned victorious from the Hunger Games, viewed by the public as star-crossed young lovers who finally get their happy ending. But the much harsher reality sees both dealing with residual trauma from the brutality they suffered and were forced to inflict in the first games.
As the annual Hunger Games once again comes around, Katniss and Peeta find themselves back in the arena, their worst nightmare. But this time, their heroic actions from the first games have set off a underground movement for revolution.
"This is the next step of Katniss' heroism and the next part of her journey to finding out who is she really going to be," said Lawrence, one of Hollywood's hottest stars after winning the Oscar for best actress this year.
"Is she going to stand up and lead this rebellion? Is she going to run away or is she going to fight? Everything is on a much bigger scale in this movie, the stakes are much higher."
The success of 2012's "The Hunger Games," which made nearly $700 million at the worldwide box office, has ushered in a new era of dark and dystopian young adult films featuring teenage leads who become beacons for hope, such as Ender Wiggin in last month's "Ender's Game" or Tris Prior in next year's "Divergent."
Early reviews for "Catching Fire" were positive and critics praised it for being quite faithful to the original book.
While the violence is brutal in both "The Hunger Games" and "Catching Fire," the deep mental and emotional scars left with Katniss and Peeta were important in order to humanize the true impact of war and killing a person, said Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta.
"With today's world, you have characters in movies that are killing people all the time, no big deal, and it kind of desensitizes us to it. But this movie, it's so hard for these characters to do what they do," he said.
"The Hunger Games" set the tone for the dark themes as children kill each other, but in "Catching Fire," larger issues of social discord come to the forefront, something that director Francis Lawrence said resonates with today's society.
"Suzanne Collins has written these stories that are really about something important. And somehow they've transcended and become a really commercial, pop cultural thing," said the director.
"Whether you look at the treatment of celebrities and the media now, or you're looking at civil war in Syria and what's going on with the government and rebels, it's a very topical subject."
While "The Hunger Games" was about Katniss' sole purpose to fight for her own survival armed with her bow and arrow, in "Catching Fire," she finds herself unknowingly become a fighter and beacon for a much bigger cause, something that doesn't escape the notice of Panem's dictatorial President Snow.
As Peeta and Katniss prepare once again to enter the Hunger Games, they find a growing network rally around them, from the residents of their coal-mining hometown of District 12 to costume designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), hired by the Capitol to dress them, making a statement through their outfits.
"(Cinna) is putting himself on the line completely there. It was really about him standing up for his beliefs and not worrying about the consequences," Kravitz said.
As war and revolution take over in "Catching Fire," veteran actor Donald Sutherland, who plays the ruthless and manipulative President Snow, hopes the film's message that society needs to change spreads, especially to its younger audience.
"I asked to be a part of (the film) because I believe that it could catalyze and energize a movement. That it could create a revolution," the actor said.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Paul Simao