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Sunday, June 26, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Kung-Fu Panda 2

2008 we got to see a computer animated anthropomorphic panda named Po, voiced by Jack Black, star in a Wuxia style action comedy movie. It sort of became one of the surprise hits of the year due to its clever writing, epic martial arts action, well-paced character arcs, good attention to conventions and great CGI. It probably also helped that everybody was expecting a more typical family film about anthropomorphic animals rather than a adorkable love letter to old style martial arts films.

The sequel, which is the subject of this review,... it's tricky to say. It's not bad. But it's not as good as the first.

The supporting cast gets even less character development compared to the first movie, where a lot of them barely got any. The exceptions being the Angelina Jolie-voiced Tigress and Po's adoptive father. And while those two are good the first is sort of a natural evolution from the first film that was to be expected. I'd just hoped for more. The supporting cast gets to do much more this time around but I think that they talk even less than in the first film and that becomes more apparent due to their extended appearances.

The actionscenes aren't as amazing as in the first movie. They're far from bad, better than most current day movies I'd say. But not up to the first film's standard. The reason for this is probably because there are less pure martial arts fights and larger set-piece scenes that include various firearms and falling buildings and the like. I prefer the pure martial arts fights but the alternative given here does match the style and plot of this movie's villain more. Even then they're just not as well-done, lacking that last bit of oophm that made the first film's action really epic.

There's also a bit of a pacing problem. The beginning of the movie feels somewhat rushed as we're shown the villains origin and then we're directly thrown into the action. There was just something off about it as they didn't even attempt to ease you into the movie. I guess that it was made for people who already saw the first movie and just wanted to get right into the action. To me it didn't feel right that we didn't get the slightest bit of recounting of the first movie's events and I feel a bit sorry for new fans that didn't have prior knowledge of them.

However, for all the above I can't say that the movie isn't entertaining. I laughed quite a lot at the jokes and got invested in the emotional scenes. The animation was as good as ever. Most importantly however is that the character stories for both Po and the big bad of the movie, lord Shen, are really good, a cut above the average for a family friendly movie intended for kids.

Is this movie Po is a fully fledged kung fu master, his dorky persona and lack of experience keeps him in a comfortable underdog territory, with true friends that believe in him standing by his side for the first time in his life. So he has everything he wanted in the previous movie except for one thing. He wants to know where he comes from, his adoptive father is a goose. Throughout the movie this lack of knowledge cripples him in several important instances and his trie struggle is to come to terms with his mysterious past in order to overcome Shen and his forces.

Now Shen is an interesting and tragic villain although that is only after further consideration. At first glance he is simply a megalomaniac hellbent on world-conquering. He is that but there's actually a bit more to his story. A man so determined to conquer the world and rights the wrongs he's been through that he is blinded to both alternative routes that he could've taken and the consequences his actions have. The interesting part is that Shen kind of seems to be aware that what he's doing is bad and that in the end it'll leave him unfullfilled but chooses to ignore it simply because he is so bitter about what happened in the past. There are short instances where he shows respect and compassion to others showing that he had the potential for good if he would just let that side grow. In the end however he is trapped in a spiral of self-destruction that might run deeper than one might think. You know, upon further consideration lord Shen might be my favourite character from both movies. It does help that Gary Oldman is Shen's voice actor.

The aesop delivered in this movie is less cleverly presented than in previous movie but it does tie nicely into Po and lord Shen's parallel stories, which could actually parallel the previous film's villain's story as well.

So overall, a perfectly enjoyable film. It's just not as good as its predecessor. I think that it would actually be a good idea to see the two films back to back. That way one can get a sort of bigger picture of Po's story and the themes of the film series. And for a potential third movie I'd like to see some character development in the supporting cast and a better mix of pure martial arts and larger set piece action scenes. But that's for the future. The important thing now is that this is a good and entertaining movie.

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