Review: Kung Fu Panda 2
PLOT: Po (Jack Black) the Panda is back, and this time he must do battle with Lord Shen (the great Gary Oldman); an evil Ostrich looking to conquer China.
REVIEW: KUNG FU PANDA was a film that actually kind of caught me off guard when I was sent to review it a few years ago. Call me pretentious, but I just didn't expect a heck of a lot from a film featuring the voice of Jack Black as a kung fu-fighting Panda, complete with Carl Douglas' overplayed “Kung Fu Fighting” dominating the soundtrack. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the film, which played as an affectionate (and knowledgeable) homage to the old-school Shaw Bros., and Jackie Chan kung fu films I adore. Granted, it wasn't perfect, but I dug it, and when I heard a second film was in the works, I was keen to check it out.
The sequel picks up a few years after part one, with Po now leading the “Furious Five”, including Angelina Jolie's Tigress and Jackie Chan's Monkey (although he only gets about half a dozen lines of dialogue this go round). His master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is trying to put his pupil on the path toward finding inner peace, but this quest is tossed aside when Oldman's Lord Shen develops a doomsday weapon to enslave China. Oh yeah, and he may also have led a genocide against Pandas, with Po's parents being among his victims. Pretty dark territory for a kiddie flick, right?
Fear not, KUNG FU PANDA 2 is still essentially a lighthearted affair, although I appreciate the effort that's been made to give it a bit more of an emotional kick this time around, which is more than the last few SHREK films ever tried to accomplish. PANDA 2 is just about as much fun as the first film, with lots of laughs and action peppered into the brisk ninety minute run time. Fight film fans will get a kick out of some of the vocal cameos (including Jean Claude Van Damme as a kung fu fighting Alligator).
Apparently, there's an outline for four more installments in the series, and that seems readily apparent here, with it planting a lot of seeds that might pay off in future installments, particularly the relationship between Po and Tigress (I wonder if an inter-species love story is out of the question?). My only issue with this being one of a number of planned sequels, is that this feels less like a self contained adventure, and more like a chapter in a larger story, which is something that always bothers me a bit in sequels (that's the major issue I had with the last IRON MAN).
Nonetheless, that's a fairly minor criticism as far as this film is concerned, and I still enjoyed PANDA 2 about as much as I enjoyed it predecessor. One thing's for certain, Po is the perfect role for Jack Black, who I'd argue hasn't made a good live-action film in years, but nails it when made into a CGI panda. His shtick can get a bit old in films like GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, but in KUNG FU PANDA? Bring it on!
I also like the look of the film, which can old be described as candy-colored Shaw Bros, and comes off extremely well in the requisite 3D. Another plus is the great score by Hans Zimmer and John Powell, which has an affectionately old-school “Kung Fu Theater” vibe, and for once doesn't feature any shout outs to Carl Lewis (thank the Lord!).
Overall, KUNG FU PANDA 2 is a good time, and guaranteed to please anyone who liked the first film. While it's nowhere near Pixar level (nor does it compare to top-tier Dreamworks animation, like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON), it's leagues better than the last few SHREK films, and a rare 3D film which won't give you a headache.