Friday, January 13, 2012

Kung Fu Panda 2

Directed by Jennifer Yuh.
2011. Rated PG, 91 minutes.
Jack Black
Angelina Jolie
Dustin Hoffman
Gary Oldman
Jackie Chan
Seth Rogen
Lucy Liu
David Cross
James Hong
Michelle Yeoh
Danny McBride
Dennis Haybert
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Victor Garber

Since becoming the Dragon Warrior, Po (Black) is enjoying life and dispatching the occasional bad guy. Of course, we wouldn’t get a new movie without a newer, greater threat on the horizon. That threat comes in the form of shunned peacock Shen (Oldman). He was banished from the city he calls home long ago for being a very bad boy. Now he’s back with plans to take over all of China, starting with his hometown. Though he’s pretty darn good at martial arts, fighting isn’t his main tactic. Instead, he has created something that seems to symbolize the death of kung fu itself. Not only is it up to Po and the rest of the Furious Five to stop him, but Po is also dealing with an identity crisis. Having never met another panda, he wants to figure out where he came from and what happened to his parents.

Like he was in the original, our hero is still a goofball and very much like most other characters played by Jack Black. By the way, his schtick works better here than in his live-action roles. There are also fun interactions between Po, Master Shifu (Hoffman) and the rest of the Furious Five. In particular, his moments with Tigress (Jolie) provides a huge chunk of the movie’s most tender moments. Another large chunk comes from Po’s time with the only dad he’s known. There is also plenty of action, even more than in the original since we don’t have to spend so much time on Po learning to fight.

Alas, more action does not necessarily make a good movie. This is a good movie because it maintains its predecessor’s most important trait. Aside from the fighting, the plot functions as much like a true martial arts film as it does a kiddie flick. Other than using human beings not many changes, if any, would be needed. It would be right at home amongst a group of Shaw Brothers productions.

It also helps that Gary Oldman gives us a wonderful heel in Shen. He’s more menacing than Tai Lung from the first movie because instead of wanting to be more than he is, Shen embraces his villainy. His one true care is about vengeance. What he has to do to achieve it is not important to him, only that it is done. Oldman conveys this in that just over the top, maniacal bad guy. Even as just a voice actor, he continues to show he is one of the most versatile performers in Hollywood.

When speaking of sequels, I don’t like saying that if you liked the first, you’ll like the second. In this case, that’s a true statement. The follow-up maintains the original’s magic and expands enough to still feel fresh. It pulls the trick of making us feel like we know these characters and that their adventure is bigger because they’ve grown – not just because. I’d be naïve to say it definitely isn’t, but it doesn’t feel like a cash-grab. It feels like the continuation of a saga.

MY SCORE: 8/10

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