24 May 2011 | alxfdrmn
The Power of Awesomeness
In a summer packed with superheroes, pirates, and aliens, I wouldn't have guessed that my favorite movie so far would involve animals doing martial arts. Kung Fu Panda 2 was extremely impressive.
The Po (Jack Black) of the first Kung Fu Panda is still the same goofy panda with a strong spirit and unique karate moves, but in this movie he faces unanswered questions about his past. While the first movie was more of an origin story, the sequel shows his quest to find out where he came from, a gap that he needs to fill in order to become at peace with himself. If you wondered how a panda could be the son of a goose, your questions will be answered, and Po's backstory is much more emotionally developed than you might think.
Po also has to confront the villainous Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an albino peacock. Tai Lung (Ian McShane) in the first movie relied more on brute force, but Shen is much crazier and unpredictable. In typical supervillain fashion, he plans to take over China and destroy Kung Fu forever (yes, Kung Fu is treated pretty lightly in these movies, but there's enough philosophy involved, and it is a kid's movie). Though Tai Lung held a personal grudge against Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) in the first movie, Shen is a more fitting antagonist for Po because of a strong connection to Po's past.
And of course the colorful supporting cast is back too. The Furious Five are all well-designed characters, and although they don't have much speaking time, they all have their moments to shine (especially Angelina Jolie as Tigress and Seth Rogen as Mantis). Though Jackie Chan barely had any lines. The new characters all help to expand the world of the movie.
Though the first movie had a lot of juvenile humor, Kung Fu Panda 2 had a lot less fat jokes and a lot more slapstick. Despite the marketing, Po only says "Skadoosh" once, and it's actually pretty cool. The movie is darker overall, but that only serves to increase the epic tone. Shen is played by Gary Oldman, and though I didn't realize that until the credits, it makes a lot of sense. The villainous peacock is very similar to other self-obsessed, off-the- hinge villains Oldman has played in movies like León and True Romance. But however dark the movie gets, it's always a lot of fun. Jack Black isn't as annoying as he can be sometimes because Po just seems like the kind of character he's meant to play.
The animation in Kung Fu Panda 2 is extremely well done. It's incredibly cool to see the group fight as a team, and the character animation is expressive in both emotional and action scenes. The cinematography embraces a wide variety of techniques, from slow motion to first person chase scenes, and several sequences use 2D animation to great effect. The set pieces are action-packed, and entertaining. After one scene, I thought the movie was going to end soon just because of how big it was, but the real finale topped even that. And the landscapes and backgrounds are beautiful to look at, artfully designed but still realistic.
I saw this movie in 3D, and for the first time, I definitely recommend it. I haven't had many good experiences with live action 3D, but animation is much better suited for it. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a thrill ride, and the 3D was crisp and well done.
I have to give props to Hans Zimmer. After Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was a bit of a letdown, the soundtrack to Kung Fu Panda 2 is quite awesome, adding to the already epic tone.
I honestly can't think of much that I can criticize about this movie. Po's "this is awesome" comments get a bit repetitive, and some scenes with Shen are a bit long. There's a plot point where the group and Po have an argument that kind of doesn't make sense. Otherwise, this movie was really entertaining, both as an action movie and a (admittedly aimed towards kids) comedy, with a strong heart in the center.
If Cars 2 doesn't completely blow everyone away, Kung Fu Panda 2 definitely has a rightful chance at winning Best Animated Feature (which my brother jokingly called "The Pixar Award") this year. It's interesting to see animation take on different genres, and if you took out all the animals, this movie could definitely stand on its own as a kung fu epic. Dreamworks really stepped up its game, and I would gladly pay to see Kung Fu Panda 2 (maybe even in 3D).