Hunger Games fans had better be whetting their appetites, because Catching Fire is coming to theaters, and it’s not likely to disappoint.

The second installment of a franchise that will span four films, Catching Fire picks up six months after the Hunger Games left off. Katniss and Peeta are safe, people are rising in the streets, and all of this has got President Snow pretty pissed off.

The film itself is pretty cool. It’s more mature compared to the first for a variety of reasons: the characters are more grown up, a few key actors are more grown up, and the story has more teeth to it. Another improvement is the fact that this film was made with a larger budget. A bigger budget means bigger effects, a more polished look and a visual presentation of Panem that is both haunting and breathtaking.

Director Francis Lawrence agreed that this film seems a lot more grown up, and he attributed this to the source material. “This is the story where everything starts to blossom and everything kind of starts to open up,” he said in a recent interview with Campus Circle. “The stakes become greater, and the characters change having been through the games in the first movie.”

Even though it’s a different movie with a different director, there is still a great deal of continuity between the two films. Lawrence explained, “One of the things that I wanted to make sure of was that there was still an aesthetic unity to all of the movies…we worked with the same production designer to make sure that the capital was built from the same architecture, that District 12 still had the same almost 1930s Appalachia feel.”

Viewers can expect a few changes, though, in Catching Fire. One of the standouts in this film is the arena itself, which seems to take on a life of its own in this sequel. “This is a very different arena than the first one,” said Lawrence. “There is much less human on human violence. The arena’s more of a threat; the arena’s a puzzle in this one.”

Along with a brand new arena, Catching Fire features a new “Gamemaker.” Having lost Seneca Crane to a bowl of elegantly presented nightlock berries, the role of “Gamemaker” in this film is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. A welcome addition to the cast, he adds a lot of dynamic to the film with a character that will no doubt surprise you (if you haven’t already read the book, that is).

A slew of other new characters fill out the cast as Katniss and Peeta are put back in the arena with 22 other victors, none of whom the audience has met before. Jena Malone stands out from this group in her performance as Johanna Mason. Bombastic and brimming with conviction, Malone explodes on the screen with a character that is smart, crazy, and admittedly, quite sexy.

“I think I loved every single thing about Johanna Mason,” said Malone. “She is hardcore and truthful and violent and angry.”

Since the story really picks up in this second movie, a lot more attention is paid to the socio-political themes that arise from the Hunger Games. With the concept of the games and the setting of Panem well established, there is actually room for the story to take on meaning. Actress Jennifer Lawrence commented on how her character, Katniss Everdeen, becomes more relevant in this second film.

“It’s a wonderful example for young adults,” she said. “You don’t have to follow the feet in front of you, even though you can seem like the only one.”

Even Josh Hutcherson, who plays a remarkably un-heroic Peeta Mellark in the first film, notices a distinct growth in his character. “Peeta, he’s like more angry in this movie,” he said. “In the first movie, he was like the baker that painted and now in this one, he’s a baker that paints, but now he also has a little bit of an edge to him. He’s angry about having to go back into the games, he’s angry about how Katniss hasn’t been with him, and he feels like he’s been lead on.”

There’s a lot going on in Catching Fire, and the film is done really well. Actor Lenny Kravitz put it rather eloquently when describing his reactions after reading the script: “It’s great storytelling. [It’s] a really well written story with really good characters.”

Hunger Games: Catching Fire releases in theaters on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013.