Kung Fu Panda 2
By Michael O'Sullivan
Thursday, May 26, 2011
It’s finally here. At long last comes the second installment of the summer film we’ve all been waiting for — the story of a dark prophesy, an orphaned boy-hero and his showdown with an evil nemesis.
No, not “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”
It’s “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
In the satisfying, if less than sensational, sequel to the funny, charming and action-packed animated feature from 2008, Po the panda (voice of Jack Black) returns in pursuit of inner peace, the defeat of a murderous peacock (Gary Oldman) and the truth about what happened to his real parents.
What? You didn’t actually think that Mr. Ping (James Hong), the noodle-making Chinese goose from the first movie who raised Po as his son, was actually our hero’s biological father, did you? We need to talk.
There always was that nagging — and much commented on — genetic impossibility at the heart of the original “Kung Fu Panda”: How on Earth could a waterfowl have spawned a giant, 250-pound bear cub? Daddy’s a bird, for crying out loud. The new movie puts that question to rest. It’s both a story about Po’s search for his origins and a reckoning with the bad guy responsible for Po’s identity crisis (Oldman’s Voldemort-like Lord Shen).
All this is set up in a beautifully drawn but harrowing prologue that shows Lord Shen — in response to a prophesy that he will one day be defeated by an unnamed, black-and-white hero — attempting to slaughter all the pandas in the world in an effort to clear the way for world domination.
Apparently he missed one.
Call Po “The Panda Who Lived.” And, yes, “Kung Fu Panda 2” is a little darker and a little more intense than the first film, especially for very young viewers.
Not that there aren’t some laughs, too, though Po is a little less physically inept and emotionally insecure this go-round, having spent the last film mastering the art of kung fu. And it’s nice to see his menagerie of martial-artist animal friends reunited, including Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu), known as the Furious Five. Dennis Haysbert also makes a welcome addition as a bovine kung fu master, as do Jean-Claude Van Damme as a crocodile and Michelle Yeoh as a bearded, soothsaying goat.
Po’s personal history notwithstanding, the story offers little in the way of bombshells, except for a surprise ending that holds out the promise of a “Kung Fu Panda 3.”
Visually, however, there’s more TNT. Made in 3-D, unlike the first film, the sequel boasts eye-popping scenes of battle and the fiery furnace of Lord Shen’s workshop, where he has built a powerful weapon against which kung fu is no match.
Gorgeously animated, the movie is a consistent pleasure to watch, even if the outcome of Po’s adventures feels like a prophesy that any one of us could have foretold.
Contains martial arts action and some violence.