Packed to the brim with slapstick comedy, superb fight scenes, some cracking vocal performances (notably Ian McShane as the villainous Tai Lung – incidentally, is there anything which isn’t improved by Ian McShane?) as well as good humour and surprising emotional touches, Kung Fu Panda was an unexpected hit back in 2008.
Kung Fu Panda 2 attempts to expand upon its success (nothing successful goes without a sequel these days) and while the result is a fast paced and fun ride with some utterly gorgeous animated sequences, it doesn’t quite pack the same, well, punch as its predecessor.
Newly appointed Dragon Warrior Panda Po (Jack Black) and the furious five – Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Crane (David Cross) – act as stalwart defenders of their village. But Po has yet to master the next stage of his training, inner peace, because he’s troubled by some disturbing images of his fuzzily remembered childhood.
There’s no time for idle contemplation though as the village is soon under attack by psychotic peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his army of wolves (led by Danny McBride) who is scouring the country for metal to be used in a super-weapon with which he plans to conquer all of China. Meanwhile, Shen’s soothsayer (Michele Yeoh) has prophesized that he will be defeated by a warrior of black and white…
The animation throughout is superb, improving on the scale and complexity of the first instalment, mixing a traditional fairy tale style used for the flashback scenes and some dazzlingly colourful and well-judged segments for the present. Particular highlights include a runaway rickshaw chase scene and a breathtakingly beautiful final battle in which Po stands solitary on a boat at night facing the entire might of Shen’s army.
The battles are all well choreographed with a special emphasis on the Furious Five working together as a team. It’s almost a shame that the fights often don’t last very long and zip past at a rate which demands a second viewing. Special mention should go to Lord Shen’s animators who have managed to give the peacock a balletic and graceful style which is no less deadly for that.
Jack Black excels at playing over the top characters; he’s almost a walking cartoon himself and is in many ways the perfect fit for Po. Similarly Gary Oldman’s Shen is infused with exactly the right kind of aristocratic menace, teetering on the brink of madness – proving once again why Oldman remains the villain of choice for Hollywood.
It’s just a shame that with such great cast, the other actors hardly get a look in. Angelina Jolie’s Tigress gets the most screen time of the five but that only amounts to a few lines. Were it not for the credits, it’d be easy to miss the other actors completely in this ensemble. There’s also a wasted cameo by Jean Claude Van Damme as an ass-kicking crocodile, but it might take some time to work out, as his time on screen flashes by in a wink.
There are also not as many laughs this time round mainly because as Po is now an accomplished warrior and not simply an overweight bumbling lard ass, there’s less potential for pratfalls. It also lacks the emotional thread which underscored the first film so brilliantly – somehow Po defending a whole country is less satisfying than him achieving his childhood dream.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable sequel; fun, fast-paced and full of frenetic fight scenes. It doesn’t quite have the high-kicking hijinks of the original but its fans will have a blast. Skadoosh indeed.