Reviews of Kung Fu Panda 2
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I remember seeing Kung Fu Panda a couple years back when I still worked with kids in an after school program. Apart from a solid voice cast and the fact the words “kung” & “fu” were in the title, I knew nothing else about it and had no interest in seeing it. After all, hadn’t I endured enough at the hands of DreamWorks Animation, makers of such mindless dribble as Shrek (yes, all of them) andShark Tale? As far as I was concerned, Pixar was the only animation studio for me. But it was a Friday afternoon—we were stuck inside and had nothing else to do so I figured I might as well make it go quickly.
What I saw in those next 90 minutes were among the best animation, storytelling, and kung fu I had ever seen in either a kung fu movie or a children’s movie. The incredible textures in the fur, the beautiful set design, the wonderful humour, not to mention the uncanny voice work by some of Hollywood’s brightest talent made Kung Fu Panda a treat to watch. But what brought it all together was the inspired use of martial arts. The classic fighting styles we’ve seen a thousand times before (tiger, crane, mantis et al.) became embodied by their animal namesakes. And the clash of styles and philosophies between the bumbling, naïve panda Po (Jack Black) and the ruthless, power-hungry snow leopard Tai Lung (voiced to perfection by Ian McShane) in the climactic finale was masterful. It was a kung fu movie first and a children’s film second—the love of both was obvious in every single frame.
For as much as I loved Kung Fu Panda, I haven’t been looking forward to seeing the sequel—likely due to over-exposure with the first one (as is wont to happen working in day care). I’m glad to say this worked in my favor as I found myself surprised all over again by the delights to be had with Kung Fu Panda 2.
Everything that was true of the original is true here as well. There are shots here that made me feel like I was in China. The water effects are picture perfect and the capital city of Gong Meng is absolutely gorgeous. It is a visually arresting film not to mention a ton of fun but that didn’t stop the creative team at DreamWorks from expanding on the ideas that came before either. Where the first film dealt with becoming who you’re destined to be, Kung Fu Panda 2 is about reconciling who you were with who you are. It also employs some darker overtones (as the best sequels do) with both our protagonist and antagonist forced to confront issues of loss and abandonment.
Speaking of antagonist, Gary Oldman is simply amazing as Lord Shen, an evil peacock determined to reclaim his birthright by conquering China with a weapon even the most legendary martial artist can’t defeat. It’s remarkable how much of Oldman you can see in the performance. Shen struts and intimidates like the real thing and his hypnotizing, brutal fighting style is masterfully tailored to a peacock’s personality. The scenes between Shen and Po are by far the most dynamic in the movie; with each confrontation Po is ever more anxious about his cluelessness while Shen laughs with ever greater maniacal glee at withholding the film’s key revelation. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson finds a balance between playfulness and menace in their repartee that is truly engaging and their clashes never come off as redundant. The result is some of the most enjoyable hero/villain interplay I’ve seen on the big screen, period.
The only real knocks against Kung Fu Panda 2 are that it takes a while to find its footing (though once Po & the Furious Five arrive at Gong Meng the jokes and the action never let up) and that the fight scenes, though beautifully choreographed, grow tiresome with the movie’s relentless pace. Of course, the end has an obligatory teaser for another sequel but when a franchise manages to wow me not once but twice (especially in our modern cinemas overrun by endless prequels, sequels and remakes that have no right to exist), its alright to allow a film so lovingly crafted a little indulgence. Here’s hoping I’m just as delighted by Kung Fu Panda 3.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Title: Kung Fu Panda 2
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Saw this one in 3D version at the cinema (4th time this year, after RIO, THOR and Captain Jack Sparrow), my expectation was not too high as I was in a numb state of receiving bombarding Hollywood summer momentum, a yearly-recurrent compulsory course (my sole anticipation lies in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS right away).
It turned out that the exotic appeal is roughly null to me (thanks to my Chinese identity), and confidently I can claim that I do prefer RIO after comparison. The Zen-inspired quintessence of the story is all-age beneficial but superficially indoctrinated and without any originality inside, the gags and set pieces are ample but in lack of a punchline. I find the editing is clumsy at some time and thwarts the coherence of the whole picture. The shadow play is a nice trick which makes amends for the corny plot of memorizing Po’s provenance.
A fully-fledged exploitation of Kung Fu and panda is foreseeable, nevertheless this time no improvement from its precedent, the original cast is on a stable level and new characters like evil peacock Shen and the goat Soothsayer all fall into flat.
The 3D effect work much better with animation than other SFX-padded live-action blockbusters, but I think an IMAX 2D could be a better choice. Due to its lukewarm North American box office, if the red-hot 3D trend will be put in a halt or a slow-down, I will be happy to see it (Although very probably the international income will eliminate this idea for the film companies).
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.