LONDON - The latest chapter of dystopian sci-fi saga "The Hunger Games" premiered in London on Monday, with Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence returning as the teenage heroine who inspires a revolution against sadistic rulers.
Despite the drizzle, hundreds of screaming fans filled the West End's Leicester Square and dozens camped out for a full 24 hours to catch a glimpse of Lawrence on the red carpet.
The 23-year-old, sporting a new blonde pixie-crop haircut, wore a backless floor-length white dress scattered with gems.
There were also loud cheers for heart-throb co-stars Liam Hemsworth - ex-fiance of pop star Miley Cyrus - and Josh Hutcherson.
After the phenomenal success in 2012 of the first film adapted from Suzanne Collins' trilogy of novels, Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, a teenager forced into a deadly battle for survival in the macabre post-apocalyptic American kingdom of Panem.
Speaking at the premiere, Lawrence called her character a "good role model for girls".
"She's strong, and she's a fighter, and she's not afraid to stand up for what's right," she told AFP.
Produced by the US Lionsgate studio, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" expects to at least match the stellar performance of the first instalment of the franchise, which took in $693 million worldwide last year.
It will be released worldwide in various markets throughout November.
The first movie saw Katniss and her friend Peeta, played by Hutcherson, emerge as the winners of the 74th "Hunger Games", a fight to the death between children organised by the evil rulers of Panem.
The latest film sees the duo fighting for their lives again while sowing the seeds of a youth rebellion, setting up the climactic showdown of the third novel "Mockingjay", which will be split into two films due for release in 2014 and 2015.
Early reviews were largely positive, with Tuesday's Daily Telegraph saying in a four-star review that it "carries on the fine work started by its predecessor".
The Guardian handed out three stars, calling it "not quite a full course, more of an amuse bouche, making its mammoth audience hungry for future, meatier instalments."
'Big shoes to fill'
Lawrence 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," added the 23-year-old, who was crowned best actress at the Oscars in February for her performance in "Silver Linings Playbook".
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."
The newcomer admitted he had "big shoes to fill".
"It's a big franchise," he said at the premier. "People take it very seriously and are really excited about it but... knowing that there's this amazing, enthusiastic audience was really energising and just made me want to make it even better for them."
Actress 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.
"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."