This film is by and large superior to its 1991 counterpart: which though lauded for its impressive creature effects, suffered from being under the creative control of producer and b-movie icon Brian Yuzna, who though responsible for some entertaining films, really was the wrong choice. Yuzna's input resulted in the addition of excessive amounts of comic relief and the toning down of the violence, gore and all around more adult subject matters that the manga and its numerous anime counterparts were known for, presumably to make it more accessible to younger audiences by way of earning a PG-13 rating. This was on top of pulling a huge bait-and-switch, advertising co-star Mark Hamill as the lead, presumably to add marquee value for its theatrical release. The result was a hideous mish-mash of stock b-movie schlock, unfunny comic relief, poorly handled martial arts choreography, but very impressive creature and practical effects: the stuff the boys at MST3K would have had a field-day with. It was poorly received by critics and didn't perform well at the box office as a result, but it generated enough interest to warrant a sequel, the subject of this film in 1995, free of Brian Yuzna's input.
This film is the superior of the two, but despite that the film still has some deep-seeded flaws that keep it from becoming a lost gem. Its cast was largely a group of unknowns and 90s TV actors who turned in highly underwhelming or completely overdone performances (which perhaps could also be blamed by a not-so-super-savvy director at the helm), hammy dialogue and underdeveloped plot threads and characters. Despite this, it stays much more true to the source material, featuring designs more similar to those featured in the manga, more direct borrowing of plot elements, and a concerted effort to stay true to the darker and violent tone of the manga, making it a much better representation of the franchise for fans and those who strongly disliked the first film.
David Hayter (the voice of Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series of video games) proves to be an excellent replacement for the flat and uncharismatic Jack Armstrong, who at least is capable of exhibiting some sort of legitimate emotion as well as not looking completely dumbfounded in almost every closeup. The other cast members do fit into their roles, but the script never develops them to a point where they become three dimensional characters, and the all-over-the-map performances make their deliveries not as sincere or realistic as they could have been. Above all else, the action is very well choreographed, performed well by some great stuntmen and crew, and shot and edited tightly and cohesively enough to make the action look spectacular but and be easy to follow (something modern action film makers have yet to get a strong grasp on). Though an earnest effort was put in, what's there just isn't much to work with, making at best a piece of popcorn b-cinema, best suited for fans who want a better representation of the franchise and lovers of b-grade action flicks with sci-fi twists.