It's a lot better than the first film in this series. It's got stronger villains and a more meaningful story, while they've lost most of the problems I had last time. I still have a few issues left, but they're minor. I'd say it's worth a look.
Firstly, some plot. Kenshin wasn't the only assassin working for the government ten years ago. They also had Shishio, who was just as brilliant as Kenshin but was also an unpredictable sociopath they were planning to dispose of. They did this. They betrayed and killed him. They even burned the corpse, but unfortunately this wasn't enough. Shishio's back.
That's an iconic villain, which is a massive improvement on the first film. Shishio gets a hell of an introduction, wiping out almost an entire government death squad and dropping them into a furnace one by one. Monks appear to be worshipping him. What's more, he's starting as he means to go on. This film isn't called "Kyoto Inferno" for nothing. Wait until you see a child screaming at a tree from which are hanging the slaughtered corpses of his parents. The first film was silly, but this film you can take seriously.
Shishio also has some entertaining sidekicks. Ryunosuke Kamiki looks perfect as the ever-smiling Soujirou, while Maryjun Takahashi is creepy as hell as Yumi Komagata. If she jumped out at you on a dark night, you'd run away screaming. She looks as if she's on drugs. They're great. Unfortunately there's also a glaring error in Ryosuke Miura, who made both me and Tomoko laugh aloud whenever he came on-screen. He's hysterically stupid-looking. Cinema audiences must have wet themselves laughing at the sight of him. Everyone who watched this film will surely agree that he was a mistake. In fairness it was always going to be impossible to do Sawagejo Cho sensibly in live-action, but... well, do a Google image search. Now imagine that live-action brat in an intense samurai drama.
The heroes were fine too. Yosuke Eguchi wasn't a problem for me this time as Hajime Saito. Munetaka Aoki is a pretty good Sanosuke. Yu Aoi deserved more screen time as Megumi. It's all okay, except...
...well, I'm still not wild about Takeru Satoh's Kenshin.
He's not Kenshin to me, I'm afraid. There's almost none of his goofiness and Satoh still can't say "oro" believably. Again his vow not to kill isn't being dramatised at all, to the point that you're not convinced that it exists outside Kaoru's head. (There's a lot of business with his reverse-blade sword, but that's slightly different.) Despite this, though, the film's trying to paint it as a big deal when Kenshin seems about to break this vow we don't believe in anyway. In short, he's been reduced to just another samurai. Swordsman fights other swordsmen. Big whoop. He's certainly a likeable chap and I have no problem with him as an action hero, mind you. This is a pretty good samurai film that I'd happily recommend to general audiences, but you'll probably think Kaoru a bit weird for having a problem with the idea of Kenshin killing Shishio.
That's my fanboy problem, though. If I'd never seen or read Rurouni Kenshin before, I'd have thought this was great. It's well-paced, living in its runtime confidently and not being afraid to slow down when necessary. The action is top-notch and still CGI-free, with some awesome battle music to boot. Everyone in it is serious. (Well, apart from Ryosuke Miura.) The ending's not what I expected, but it certainly made both Tomoko and me want to watch the next film in the series.