A warning to all who attempt to watch this without watching the first movie - you'll be lost, totally. It doesn't come with a summary or a montage, and dives right into where the first film left off. You'll probably have plenty of questions, and there is almost zero character introduction. Even the brisk recap of the Death Note capabilities quickly flips by, offering you no time to complete reading what's on screen. So you've been warned. A review of the first movie can be found here.
Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara) now becomes part of the team hunting down Kira, and a reluctant L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) still refuses to drop his assumptions of Light being Kira himself. However, a new Kira emerges, thereby casting doubts on L's theory, and its seems that this new Kira is more powerful than the last. Another battle of wits ensues, but this time, who's playing who, and at what price?
The cast here is basically the same, just that bit characters Misa Amane (Erika Toda) and Kiyomi Takada (Nana Katase) get expanded roles here, to balance the strong testosterone flavour seen in the 1st movie (ok, not quite, since both Light and L are exactly hunks), and given that they're beautiful, I sure am not complaining. Their roles as the television celebrity and the news reporter respectively aren't flower vases by design, and are totally involved in the plot, though still pawns in the entire scheme of things.
What made the first movie interesting, even though for the most parts it's devoted to setting up the premise, was that there were many bits of surprises and revelations along the way. Here, all the bits and pieces are sacrificed for one major plot, with Sacrifice being the recurrent theme here, and although we learn more of the capabilities and limitations of the Death Note, it lacks the freshness of its predecessor as everything was hinged on that grand central scheme. And being just one scheme, it had the weight on the entire movie hinging on it to make, or break.
Also, there were many moments which made it too contrived, and largely dependent on plenty of coincidences and lucky breaks, even up to predicting how others would behave. Compared to the first, it just didn't cut it, and came across as lazy storytelling on the filmmakers' part. Even though the ending of the first movie was made of predicting what others would do, and involves being ahead many steps of the way, the same technique as presented in the sequel, is far too complex with many determinants hanging in limbo, for it to work as it should.
The pacing didn't help, and its dragged out finale was almost laughable, adhering to the tragic villain soliloquy for far too long. However by then, you'll be glad that it's just all over. I suspect if the two movies are watched back to back, it'll be more enjoyable than watching both as standalones. Still, it makes for some good harmless entertainment on lazy afternoons.