Jun 6, 2011

[Movies] Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)It's great how a sequel can surprise you. And I'm not just talking about sequels that do better than you're already lowered expectations. I mean the sequels that just come out nowhere with how well the movie was put together and thus making it actually a contender when placed in comparison to the first movie.

This definitely felt like one of those movies given how much my partner and I had laughed while watching this in the theater. And it wasn't just us - the whole audience was definitely bowling over in laughter more than once during the course of the movie, regardless of whether we're talking about the children in the audience or the adults that came along with them. This was definitely a great example of a movie that managed to cross the boundaries between age groups and other demographics rather well.

And think this movie had a much more visually interesting villain driving the story along. I'm not saying he was necessarily better or worse than Tai Lung (from the first movie), but he was definitely distinct and quite memorable. As with the first, this movie was another great example of merging Western comedic sensibilities with Eastern martial arts styles and related aesthetics.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is the 2011 animated sequel to the original 2008 comedy hit. The movie was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who had directed the opening sequence of the first movie, and was written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story begins with a little background narrative about the peacocks of Gongmen City who were known for bring fireworks to the people as a means of celebrating the good things in life. But their son Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) was more curious about finding a way to use the fireworks as weapons, much to the dismay of his parents. A soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) predicted that Shen's path would ultimately lead to his defeat at the hands of a warrior of black and white. He tried to change his fate by exterminating the panda village, thus angering his parents and forcing him into exile.

From left to right: Masters Viper, Monkey, Man...Image via WikipediaIn the "present day" of the Kung Fu Panda world, Po (Jack Black) is an accepted student of the great Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and regularly defends the valley against attacks with the support of the Furious Five. A surprise raid on the musician's village in an attempt to steal all their metal brings Po and the Furious Five face to face with Shen's forces. Just as the battle was about to be won, Po sees the symbol on the armor of one of the raiders, which triggers a flood of memories of his past. They are defeated with the wolves taking some of the town's metal objects with them while Po puzzles over what he had experienced.

In time the kung fu warriors are dispatched to Gongmen City in order to ascertain the fate of the city's protectors given news that Lord Shen had returned with a fearsome new weapon which threatened the fate of all of China. At the same time, Po continually has to face his own inner demons in the form of his adopted past amidst all the journeying and eventual fighting.

It was a great thing that the original voice actors were able to reprise their roles for this movie. They've all become quite comfortable with the characters that they were associated with previously and it shows in the ease of the banter and the relative strength of the emotions contained in the movie.

The movie was FUNNY on so many levels it's insane. Sure you have the usual set of sight gags for the kids, mostly involving Po being a total klutz. But then you get the slightly more compliated and also more bizarre sequences like the dragon disguise combat sequence and of course Po's final showdown with Lord Shen. We also had a lot of quick one-liners thrown back and forth and the occasional off-tangent remark that is pretty funny but disturbing in context - I'm looking at you, Mantis (Seth Rogen).

I can't get over the character of Lord Shen though. Apart from the fact that he's voiced by the ever amazing character actor Gary Oldman, his visual representation was quite elegant and still deadly throughout the movie. We know that peacocks are rather beautiful, especially with their tales unfurled. Here the movie makers managed to translate this beauty into a free-flowing martial arts style that combined large sweeping movements, stealthy and swift stilettos and a rather wicked blade as well. The character was both intelligent and quite a skilled hand-to-hand fighter with a definite advantage in social rolls.

The Furious Five as a group were definitely well animated, especially during the rights. Given the speed of the action, I know I'll want to watch this movie again a few more times in order to appreciate their more complex maneuvers. The point here is that not only have the Five continued on in their tradition of interwoven fighting styles that played on the various strengths of the individuals in the group. Plus the seamless combat style that we had seen in the first movie had evolved to better include Po.

I didn't quite get the pseudo-romantic angle they were dangling here and there between Po and Tigress (Angelina Jolie). As much as movies generally need this sort of thing, I'm not quite sure how essential it was to the overall plot apart from making sure Ms. Jolie had a generous amount of speaking lines. Of all the five, I felt Crane (David Cross) really got the short end of the stick here. While his comedic moments in the first movie probably were a bit in contrast of keeping the comedic spotight on Po, but I still felt it was warranted to keep things flowing. Monkey (Jackie Chan) wasn't heard from much either apart from Po falling on him here and there and of course the whole bit about using a crane call as a signal.

Overall, this movie was certainly a great follow-up to the original movie. The fight scenes were bigger, the comedy was fast and quite furious in it sown right and there's very little to be found in this movie that wasn't necessarily awesome as well. It gets 5 Furious Five action figures out of a possible 5.

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