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KUNG FU PANDA 2
Prepare For The Return Of Awesomeness

Director
Jennifer Yuh

Starring
Jack Black
Dustin Hoffman
Angelina Jolie
Gary Oldman
Jackie Chan
Seth Rogen
Lucy Liu
David Cross

Kung Fu Panda 2 is quite simply one of the most justifiable sequels of the last ten years; why yes, I would love to clarify that statement. But not yet, first you have to sit through my breakdown of the synopsis, for this is how I structure my reviews (just in case you're new to this site).

The film opens with an almost shadow-puppet theatre style animation that recounts the story of young Lord Shen's [Oldman] banishment after utilising the power of fireworks to create weapons. Upon learning that he would suffer downfall at the hands of a warrior 'of black and white' Shen mercilessly executed every Panda he came across. As he entered exile, Shen vowed to return and reclaim his inheritance as ruler of Gongmen City. Set shortly after the events in Kung Fu Panda, Po [Black] has accepted his role as the dragon warrior, continuing his training and protection of the outlying villages. Meanwhile, Shen is planning his return and sent his army of wolves across the nation, scavenging any metal they can find, in order to create an armada loaded with cannons. Calmly entering the castle, Shen confronts the three greatest kung fu warriors and decimates them with his new-fangled weapon. Shifu [Hoffman] receives word of this attack and sends Po and the Furious Five to counter the weapon and save the art of kung fu. Along the way, Po is haunted by cryptic images of his past - brought about by his father's confession that Po was adopted (a minor running joke in the first film as Po's father is a goose). Po soon realises that the answers to his questions, as well as the means to achieve inner peace can be found in Gongmen City.

So, yes, most justifiable sequel in a decade. Unlike the majority of sequels which are created for the sole purpose of earning the production studio more money, Kung Fu Panda 2 feels like a genuine opportunity to further develop the lead characters whilst telling an entertaining story. More specifically, examining Po's past could easily have been a poorly handled, hollow waste of time (as it usually is in most prequel/origin flicks) but the events transpire so naturally that the entire affair feels like a carefully executed progression. On top of that, the unique humour, visual style and endearing characters ensure as much of the original appeal and success have been retained. Furthermore, the popular opening animation has been expanded and used in various flashback sequences, demonstrating the creator's keen awareness of what the fans did and didn't respond well to. But beyond the humour and action sequences, there is a surprising level of tenderness - not Pixar level but better than the majority of contemporary CGI animated fare. Much in the same way as its predecessor, Kung Fu Panda 2 walks a thin line between amusing family film, base-level humour and decent filmmaking, never veering too heavily one way or another; all the while avoiding that nasty 'middle of the road' mire that the Shrek series eventually sank into.

As entertaining as it is, there are still a few flaws. The first of which being the sheer amount of on-screen characters. It was only at the end of Kung Fu Panda that Po was accepted by the furious five and even then they were quickly defeated by Tai Lung. Granted, the only new introduction is a new bad guy and the goat shaman but with Po, the furious five and Shifu, that's seven distinct individuals battling for screen-time and much like the last film, Rogen, Liu, Cross and Chan are all quickly relegated to a handful of one-liners. Equally, as much as I am praising this film for its similarities to the first film, a lot of people will find that not only annoying but a simple rehash of the same story. I don't believe this to be true but there are individuals who will, so thought I'd make mention of it.

Overall I was very impressed with this release, I still don't think the 3D element was in any way necessary but if you can see it in IMAX, I would advise you do so. With decent pacing, character growth, skilled animation and compelling voiceover work, this film is a stunningly impressive sequel (for what it is) and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.

Release Date:
10th June 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Time for spoilers! Skip to the next paragraph if you wish**
Having discovered the rotting remains of his home and his identity (told you there were spoilers), Po returns to free the Furious Five and confront Lord Shen's armada. Enigmatically, standing on a rooftop, Po calls out to the fleet before flinging his hat, with the intent of breaking the chains detaining his colleagues. Instead we witness a speech that no one can hear because of the distance and a straw hat that simply wafts away on the breeze. The series of events aren't key to the humour but the delivery and keen pacing throughout sell the exchange beautifully.

Notable Characters:
As stated, with so many characters jostling for screen time, it's difficult to fully appraise each performance. However, it is apparent that these films thrive on Jack Black's energy and personality (unless you hate Black, in which case you'll just find these films annoying) and the introduction of Gary Oldman. A peacock is a hard sell as a villain - especially when trying to rival a 150kg panda - but voiced with sufficient bitter spite, Oldman ensures Shen is a nice parallel to the physically honed Tai Lung [Ian McShane] of the previous release.

Highlighted Quote:
PO: Scars heal
SHEN: No they don't! Wounds heal!
PO: Oh, right. What do scars do? Fade?
SHEN: I don't care what scars do!

In A Few Words:
"Every year audiences endure a wealth of mediocre and sub-par sequels but Kung Fu Panda 2 is proof evident that decent progressions can be made without going completely overboard"

Total Score:
7/10


Matthew Stogdon