An earlier reviewer compared this to the Japanese cult favorite Battle Royale and decided it was almost junk. I beg to differ - the film needs to be evaluated on its own merits and its own story. Battle Royale is a single story about merciless, wanton and senseless violence and depravity when the aim was simply to be the last to survive - a kill- fest, where the innovative ways of killing serve to shock and titillate the audience but do little for the plot. The Hunger Games however, is about oppression, fighting back and revolution. The Games, though pivotal, are still part of a larger story.
Compared to the first film, this one is definitely darker. The characters look even more despondent than ever, and if you thought there were few laughs in the first film, there is practically none in this. Even the brightly-lit scenes featuring cheering crowds and smiling hosts seemed dim, bleak and depressing. While enjoying the witty banter, you couldn't help but wait for the 'but...'. The feeling of doom and gloom persists from the start to the end of the film. It is not a bad thing though - it is not supposed to be a happy movie.
Many details and subplots were understandably cut from the film adaptation, but none that were critical to the plot of the film. However, a lot of the peripheral action that were in the book is missing here, hence, though the story moves quickly enough, there is always the feeling that for an action-thriller, there aren't enough fights or explosions. The ones they movie do have aren't exciting or grand enough.
But in terms of story-telling, the movie still works to move from the first film and prepare for the third. The seeds of revolution have been planted and watered, and we now prepare for the maturing and harvesting.
Jennifer Lawrence didn't do as well here as in the last film, probably because most of the growing needed has been done previously. Josh Hutcherson though, put in a better performance. While he may previously be the injured lovestruck puppy dog, his maturing into a more complex character in this movie means he starts carrying more of the film.
Emotionally, this movie affected me less than the last one. Maybe it's partly because I know what is coming, but that accounts for a very minor percentage. Mostly it's because the film is unable to engage your baser emotions - nothing that truly tugs at your heartstrings. The pervading gloom also seems to have sapped any ability to feel more despondent than you think you already are.
It is still a movie that can be enjoyed though, and I did enjoy it enough. Hopefully the next film will provide for more emotional variance. If you don't feel for the characters, you won't care about the film.