Theatrical Review: KUNG FU PANDA 2
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Director: Jennifer Yu
Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Gary Oldman, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Jean-Claude Van Damme
The tricky things about sequels is expanding an established world and taking the opportunity to fix the problems with the original while, at the same time, pleasing the audience and fans of the first movie. Many sequels fall into the trap that bigger is better, making this just a quick fix that can be perceived as half-hearted and lazy. Luckily, KUNG FU PANDA 2 does not do any of these things. It takes elements moviegoers loved about the original and expands the mythology, while at the same time continuing the story of Po (Jack Black), the panda “Dragon Warrior” destined to save the world. Interestingly, creating a worthy installment in this saga that will please children, adults, and families alike.
KUNG FU PANDA 2 continues the story told in the original very naturally by introducing the audience into the crux, motivation, and mission of the narrative in an accessible and clever way. A sequence involving 2D animation both serve as an introduction and provides background where necessary. This gives the film a certain style and keeps true to its Chinese post-modern aesthetic. Right here, we have everything we need to know about the premise of the movie, everything else will be built on top of this opening sequence. The new villain in this sequel is Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a flamboyant, cunning, and vicious peacock, hell-bent on revenge and claiming his rightful place in the world. In the original, Tai Lung (Ian McShane) was strong and bruiting, while Lord Shen is smart and quick.
Much of the story is spent on Po masteringthe art of Kung Fu while trying to gain inner peace. Again, it expands the mythology by giving a wonderful backstory of Po’s origin as the son of a noodle shop owner into the Kung Fu panda we know in these movies. This is what I loved the most, continuing the hero’s journey in not only defeating his enemies but also defeating the enemy within. For me, KUNG FU PANDA 2 serves as an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK-style of storytelling - going to darker places in a hero’s mind and soul and becoming victorious at the end. Po learning what the past can do for the present and the future is an invaluable lesson in both being the “Dragon Warrior” and discovering your family.
Po’s new family isThe Furious Five, each one representing a style of Kung Fu. The sequel does a great job of incorporating and building upon those elements in the original. We, finally, see Po actually fighting with The Furious Five in one of the first action sequences, and to me, this was one of the joys of the movie. Seeing a well-choreographed fighting sequence against Lord Shen’s minions, a pack of wild wolves, was so amazing and fun, especially injected with the humor of Jack Black.
Interestingly, the villains in this movie are actually quite complex. There are moments when hints of good shine through, giving an audience a bit of jump and not knowing what to do with this information. I found this to be very refreshing, not just giving into the pure evil sense most children’s animated features showcase. The race to stop Lord Shen involves the scariest of elements - technology in the wrong hands. This film explores themes of the old tide conflicting the new one. Can old ways defeat new ones? The film poses these threats in a smart way, giving its general audience something to think about.
Ultimately, KUNG FU PANDA 2 is extremely fun to watch. It’s full of action-packed highs, thrilling Kung Fu fight scenes, and touching, heartfelt father/son moments, while at the same time being very funny for general audiences of all ages. KUNG FU PANDA 2 consistently hits the mark for quality and excellence, it could’ve been easily the same movie as the first one but happily, it wasn’t. It’s a great sequel and leaves me wanting more from this magnificent series. This movie will give Pixar some good competition this summer.