Sequels are tricky things. For every Empire Strikes Back, there are 10 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chests. And for every Dead Mans Chest, there are a least a dozen Jaws 2s. The odds are rarely in favor of lightning striking twice and this summer, the odds are even worse and this weekend alone, there are two major sequels. Last night I tackled one of the two and it was soft, cuddly and quite plush. I am of course referring to Kung Fu Panda 2.
When I got home last night I was faced with Mrs. Blahg working a bit late and the complete lack of desire to cook a wonderful and nutritious meal for my little ones. With that daunting outlook on the evening, I found it prudent to ask my young ladies if they would like to see Kung Fu Panda 2 and popcorn, hot dogs and Icees became an instant dinner for all.
We last saw Po (Jack Black) having become the Dragon Warrior by defeating the big baddie in the form of Tai-Lung (Ian McShane) and earning respect from his Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman who really does fantastic voice work) and the Furious Five (Anjelina Jolie [Tigress], Jackie Chan [Monkey], David Cross [Crane], Lucy Liu [Viper] and Seth Rogan [Mantiss]) after an hour and a half of incredulity at the prospect of the greatest kung fu warrior being a fat, lazy panda.
Kung Fu Panda 2 begins with a wonderful 2D animation story (we saw the 3D presentation) telling the tale of the city where fireworks were invented and the peacock rulers and their son, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). Shen sees something dark in the fireworks he envisions weaponry and conquest. In response, the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) foretells that if young Lord Shen continues on his current path he will eventually be defeated by a warrior of black and white. Whats a megalomaniacal bird to do but kill all the pandas in a nearby village in order to make sure that warrior cannot defeat him. Horrified, his parents cast him out in shame and the tale is ended.
The entire story arc is basically outlined in that opening. Pos parents were killed, Shen wishes to create weaponry and eventually, according to prophecy, Po will defeat Shen. Does this kill the movie as Ive read in at least one other review? I dont believe it does. In my opinion it sets of a wonderful story based very firmly on what we knew before. Obviously Pos real father isnt a goose, and the scene where his father must tell Po that he was adopted had enough pathos to carry that story through to the end and I would be a liar if I didnt admit to having one tear shed by the end (literally one tear plopped down on my shirt with a bit of a heavier than expected weight to it).
As with the first Kung Fu Panda, the fight sequences are spectacular. Rivaling any 70s or 80s Hong Kong kung fu flick, the gorgeous (and I mean breathtakingly beautiful) animation allows for situations and scenarios that are quite impossible based on any real biological or physical based reality, but are an absolute treat to behold. Well paced, action packed and with just enough emotion impact to keep you glued to the screen. Dont think too hard and you will be greatly rewarded.
Gary Oldman does what he does best which is to glower and terrify. The actors doing voice work as the baddies in both films are simply pitch perfect and with the return of the entire cast of the previous film, there is a fantastic sense of continuity that never feels forced of jammed in. Unfortunately, not all parts are created equal, and some of the Furious Five dont get much to say but all seem to have something to do. And like the first film, it is the relationship between Tigress and Po that has the more resonant impact (within the Five that is really the emotional backbone is Po and his dad).
Is Kung Fu Panda 2 predictable? Pretty much. Does it take any big chances in terms of tweaking its formula much? Not really. Does it work as a sequel and through line for the story set out in the first? Without a doubt. Although it lacked the originality and surprise of it predecessor, I believe it can easily stand on its own as an thoroughly entertaining and fun movie for both adults and kids. I have yet to give letter grades but if Kung Fu Panda was an A-, part 2 is an easy B+.
you want to fight,
Cornelius J. Blahg