I found this second, more serious and much darker "Hunger Games" film, even BETTER than the first one. Below more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
First let's say that this film sticks to the book very closely. Of course there is no way you can show during 145 minutes everything that a book contains (and therefore the characters of Bonnie and Twill among others are not shown), but I believe virtually everything important is included. And that is a precious thing.
All actors did great. Jennifer Lawrence who plays Katniss Everdeen is of course THE STAR of this film, but everybody around her performed also flawlessly.
The best performance is offered by Josh Hutcherson who plays Peeta Mellark, a young boy madly in love with Katniss and linked to her in most complex ways since a long time. This role is the most difficult in all film as Peeta is a most complicated character: a baker's son, weaker than many of other young males around and definitely not born to be any kind of hero he nevertheless soldiers on through all the hardships and relentlessly pursues the woman of his life through all the nine circles of hell - and beyond...
Much more attractive, stronger and very manly Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is by comparison a little bit easier to play, but the events put him also in a position not easy at all... Which gives a quite interesting love triangle.
Young actors who play new characters of Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) were very well selected. He is an extremely handsome and very vain young hunk - with brains and a plan. She is not very appealing physically, but she got enough character, potty mouth and (bad)attitude to spread amongst a battalion of more average girls - and still have enough for her own needs...)))
Older actors give also a great show and we have a lot of them. Donald Sutherland is of course the greatest of them and we all know how much he enjoys playing characters which are odd and also sometimes evil - and here he gives us a great show portraying the aged supreme master of Panem, president Coriolanus Snow, a man both odd AND evil... Haymitch has more screen time in this film than in the previous one and Woody Harrelson plays him splendidly - and that is a huge compliment coming from me as I usually don't like this actor. At all.
Effie Trinket - a really splendid and so appropriate last name by the way - also appears more in this film. We come therefore to know her as a person who is simultaneously grievously annoying, heavily ridiculous, enragingly insufferable and beautifully pathetic - and Elizabeth Banks plays her just like it should be done. Lenny Kravitz offers a surprisingly good and serious performance as Cinna. Stanley Tucci is of course a treasure as Caesar Flickerman, a TV show host and great regime propagandist whom we want to strangle from the second he appears on the screen...))) And then there is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker of 75th Hunger Games, successor of the most unfortunate Seneca Crane who "choose to stop breathing" in the previous film...
In smaller but important roles we have Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny from "Pulp Fiction") as Wiress and Lynn Cohen (Ukrainian baby sitter Magda in "Sex and the city") as Mags. And also Patrick St. Esprit as Head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread. Honestly, as dissuasion and pacification tools go, the face of this guy alone is worth a whole Panzer division - and then there is still all the rest of him...
A digression here for "Star Wars" fanboys and firearms maniacs. First, it was a great idea (and I think also a tribute to Star Wars) both in book and the film to follow George Lucas and dress the bad guys in white...))) Also, firearms maniacs will appreciate the Peacemakers being armed with Belgian 5,7 mm FNP90, an indeed very futuristic looking weapon, but actually in service since 1990 and presently used by more than 40 countries. This weapon, which has a rate of fire so high that it is possible to cut a man in half with a short burst, was actually already used by the security troops of one bloodthirsty tyrant, overthrown and killed by insurgents - Muammar Gaddafi... End of digression for "Star Wars" fanboys and firearms maniacs.
Willow Shields who plays Primrose Everdeen appears only briefly and her character has in fact only one line to say - but when she says it, this is a GREAT moment! And then there is little Erika Bierman, barely 12 years old (but looking 9), who plays president's Snow granddaughter, a lovely little thing who speaks only like twice in this film, every time hurting and scaring her dear Grandpa worse than ten thousands armed rebels could ever do...)))
Although not appearing as a character, in this film there is also Rue, the cute little girl from District 11. As we know she was killed in the previous games - but her picture appears in a couple of moments in this film and every time it occurs it is an indictment of the Capitol, stronger than a 10 000 words accusation act...
The Arena built for those very special 75th Hunger Games is a really hellish place. Suzan Collins must be quite a kinky gal for inventing such a perversely twisted tool of torture and murder. The whole games are therefore a pretty dramatic thing, albeit ultimately not as dramatic as those portrayed in the previous film (guess we are now more used to the whole thing).
But the reason why I believe this film is SUPERIOR to the previous one resides in all parts which take place BEFORE the games themselves - and they constitute more than half of the film. The feeling of omnipresent TERROR all around the Panem is portrayed very well indeed - and all those who, like me, once lived under an authoritarian repressive regime (I grew up in communist Poland) will fully appreciate it.
The mixture of oppression, repression, censorship, shortage of everything (when in the same time regime's nomenklatura lives in opulence), black market as a coping mechanism, the violence of little local tyrants serving the regime, the feeling of powerlessness - it is all there. And then come the whispers of something going on, then some official flags are ripped off at night, then appears the first writing on the wall, the first stone is thrown against a patrolling police car, first signs of rebellion appear and with them HOPE - but also the first dead... It is all there.
The second "Hunger Games" is therefore for my personal taste a darker, more serious (sometimes even sinister) treat, very usefully reminding especially the younger viewers what exactly an oppressive regime LOOKS and FEELS like and how difficult and COSTLY it is to regain the freedom once it was lost - or even worse forfeited... And this part of the film definitely overshadows the adventure/action scenes and any kind of love triangle.
The very LAST scene, not involving any actors but just some graphics, is simply GREAT and so full of promise for the next film that I simply cannot wait to see it - and see it I will, as surely as I will buy this one on Blu-ray, as soon as it is available. Definitely. Catch this film as long as it is still playing in theaters - it is worth it. Enjoy!