So I watched Kung Fu Panda 2…
It’s amazing how the purpose why you watch a movie can have such a influential effect on your enjoyment of a movie. The first time I watched this movie it was just for fun and I really liked it and thought it was as good, if not better than the original. Now that I’m watching this film with the intention of reviewing it, I’m much more aware of its flaws and how – while it is still entertaining – it doesn’t quite match up to the original.
Okay, basic plot: After serving out an exile, the peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) returns to Gongmen City to exact his revenge on its inhabitants. Lord Shen’s fury is not confined to the people of his city, however, and he plans to conquer the whole of China. Po (Jack Black) – The Dragon Warrior – is dispatched to battle Shen and foil his scheme. Unbeknownst to Po, Shen has created a new weapon – one that is impervious to any kung fu attack. As Po prepares to take on Shen he realises that he’s not just fighting for the future of China but also for the key to unlock his past.
Often sequels try to serve you up the exact same plot that you saw in the original and hope you that won’t notice; but Kung Fu Panda 2 actually has the guts to go a new way and try to break new ground. This is great because you get to see something new and be entertained in ways that you weren’t previously. However, it can also be detrimental when films try to change too much and don’t bring along the core elements that made the original work. So in my mind this film exists in a weird stage of limbo where I love that it’s different but hate that things aren’t the same.
There’s a great new villain in this film in the form of Lord Shen who is masterfully voiced by Gary Oldman. He reminds me of a Bond villain in many ways with his high level of sophistication and menacing malice. Oldman does a fantastic job with his acting as per usual and I think Shen is a much more engaging villain than Tai Lung was. If you actually think about it Tai Lung and Lord Shen’s backstories are so similar that they could be the same character; but Shen is given more screentime and the development around his character is more in-depth. I also really enjoyed Michelle Yeoh who voices The Soothsayer. Yeoh is funny and her performance though understated is crucial to this film’s plot.
One of the aspects of change that this film employs that I didn’t care for was how the screenwriters chose to represent Po. Po has put in some time as The Dragon Warrior, he’s a respected kung fu master now but still the loveable goof from the first movie. What was changed was his route to success. In the first movie, Po defeats Tai Lung not because he’s more adept at kung fu but because he has an unorthodox style and his body build allows him to be impervious to Tai Lung’s attacks. There’s a very specific reason why Po and only Po could be The Dragon Warrior and defeat Tai Lung. In Kung Fu Panda 2, there’s no reason why Po needs to be the hero. It feels like anyone who knows anything about kung fu could have done what he did. The movie tries to personalise it and make it seem like only Po could do what he did but it completely fails and – because of this – the film is lacking a great deal of heart.
The film is still incredibly animated and Hans Zimmer and John Powell once again do a lovely job composing the music for this film. The majesty and pageantry of kung fu is once again beautifully displayed but the story shifts away from more ‘believable’ kung fu to straight out magic. In the first movie you saw Po training and learning how to fight, in this movie he sees something once and is suddenly a master of that technique. It just feels cheap and further robs the film of heart because it takes away from the awesomeness of Po and just makes it feel like any generic character could have filled his shoes.
Overall, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a fun movie that is worth watching. It doesn’t quite hit the notes that the original did and chooses to become more about magic instead of kung fu but I think this film is still worth your time. 7/10