Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kung Fu Panda 2

In general, sequels are not as good as their predecessors. Often times the protagonist has achieved his objectives and become an experienced, stronger character at the end of the first movie. Then for some reason, in the sequel our protagonist seems to lose all experience, knowledge, and skills and has to start the Hero’s Journey all over again. It’s a lazy writing technique that a lot of movies use. I was expecting to see this in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), but someone goofed up and wrote a good sequel that is a logical follow up to the first film.
In the Valley of Peace, Po (Jack Black) is reveling in his fulfilled dreams as he serves as the fabled Dragon Warrior protecting his home with his heroes and closest friends, the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). However, Po and company learn that the murderous Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) of Gongman City is threatening the land with a fearsome new weapon that could mean the end of Kung Fu. They attempt to stop him, but Po is burdened with crippling flashbacks linked to this new villain. Lord Shen is paranoid after a soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) warns him to beware of pandas, so Lord Shen and Po’s destinies are linked more than Po ever imagined. As Po seeks out his past, he struggles to find inner peace to gain an advantage over this formidable foe.
Whenever I see Jack Black in the credits for a movie it makes me cringe. With the exception of the first Kung Fu Panda movie, I haven’t liked a single movie he’s been in. In fact, I wanted to dislike Kung Fu Panda 2, but it was so well done, that I simply couldn’t dislike it. Everything that made the first Kung Fu Panda movie great was reiterated in this sequel; great animation, great voice acting, and great story. Just go read my Kung Fu Panda review and pretend I’m talking about this one.
There’s more to talk about, though! I was so relieved that Po somehow had not forgotten all his experiences and lost his fighting skills, forcing him to have to relearn everything. If that had been done, they may as well have just rereleased the first film again. Po is a Kung Fu master, now. While he’s still bumbling and lovable, he can lay the smack down when he needs to.  But in Kung Fu Panda 2, Po has a revelation. Maybe his father, Mr. Ping the goose (James Hong), isn’t the biological father of Po the Panda. Po starts questioning his origins, and it seems the only one with answers is the evil Lord Shen. This not only creates an interesting dynamic between the hero and villain, but it also allows us to explore Po’s character more deeply, making Po all the more interesting.
Then there’s Lord Shen. I love it when Gary Oldman plays a villain, and he was an excellent villain here. He’s bent on conquering China at all costs; he knows he’s got a powerful new weapon that makes him a force to be reckoned with. One wouldn’t think that a peacock would be all that intimidating, but he’s got this cool, calculating, confident attitude with a little paranoia stirred in. He uses metal blade-like feathers that he throws like knives and has light metal armor on his feet which scrape and cling as he walks, which sound musical, but ominous. He’s also a bit funny; he’ll practice lines for when the perfect moment arrives, “Greetings, Panda; we meet at last,” though when he finally gets to deliver his menacing lines, Po’s ungainly antics usually spoil the moment for him. Lord Shen is a really good villain that I would put on par with Scar from The Lion King or Jafar from Aladdin.
Apart from the fantastic art design, stellar animation, and great writing, (again, read my review of the first film) there’s something to be said about the Foley art. Background sound effects don’t usually stand out; you just expect them to be there. Right from the first fight scene there’s a lot of Foley work that is so well incorporated and sound so good it almost resembles music played on non-instrumental objects. There’s also the sound of Lord Shen slowly walking that also sounds amazing and practically musical. The movie sounds good as well as looks good.
I tried not to, but I really did love Kung Fu Panda 2. There’s some great character and plot development to make it interesting for adults as well as tons of slapstick humor to keep viewers of all ages engaged. I was rolling on the floor laughing at all the physical comedy and watched the engaging conflict with rapt attention. It’s a great family movie that heralds back to classic Kung Fu movies just as the first film did. Kung Fu Panda 2 is better than the first movie, in my opinion. I highly recommend both of these movies to anyone; just make sure you see them in chronological order. Both movies are worth owning on Blu-Ray.

It’s rare that a sequel is better than the first movie. What is another example of a sequel being better than its predecessor? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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