If it's crap ... We'll tell you
8:30pm - 10th June 2011 (3D)
With Kung Fu Panda 2 finally getting it's U.K. and Ireland release this week, it was with quite high expectations that I entered the cinemal this evening. And man, did it deliver. A Summer sequel that may actually equal it's previous film? It could well be, let's take a look at Dreamwork's latest release.
Characters, and setting, will be instantly recognisable to those who saw the first movie. The panda Po (Jack Black) returns as the Dragon Warrior, China's hero and protecter against all villians. He is now a full member of the Furious Five - an elite band of warriors, who each represent a fighting style. Crane, Praying Mantis, Viper, Monkey, and Tigress. Their master, Lord Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffmin) tells them that a new enemy has returned. A peacock, by the name of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) who had once been banished from his home city of Gongmen, because he attacked a nearby villiage to nullify a prophecy that had been told to him. Since then he has returned and taken over, with the use of a deadly new weapon powered by black powder. It could spell the end of all Kung Fu, which is why the fate of China rests on Po, and the Furious Five.
Even though the story sounds very similar in design to the first film, there is more depth and insight into not just the characters, but also the details too. There is a noteable improvement in the CG and lighting, and Dreamworks make the most of every technique they implemented, and learned over the years. Put simply, this film has a very grand scale to it.
Po's father Mr Ping also returns, where his worry for his son taking part in such dangerous missions is getting hard for him. Also, during a bandit attack on the villiage, Po goes through a frightening flashback to his childhood, which makes him begin to question where he came from, and ultimately, what happened to his real parents.
So, you can see that this story is focussed very much on Po, dealing with not only his missions as the Dragon Warrior, but also him attempting to find peace in his unknown past. This gives the film a lot more story to work with, but it never forgets it's origins - it's still a comedy at heart. The humour is solid and well implemented, with Jack Black still managing to get some good laughs. Even the side characters, in the Furious Five, and others later in the film, have some very good lines written for them.
The big draw from the first movie of course, was the fight scenes, and they have certainly done it again here. The choreography and setup to each scene is simply amazing, the pace is fast, intense, and always throwing in some gags to give you a laugh, and draw you even more into the action. Even though the style of each character has already been set in stone, Dreamworks has managed to develop even more impressive action, and all-round awesomeness in the Kung Fu. Po is no longer the blundering student, he now takes part in the team's actions. Though he still has a lot to learn, the sense of teamwork and trust between them all really shows through. Tigress is still for me the best, I wish that a little more of her story had been touched on, but I guess you can't expect it all.
The main villian in this, Lord Shen, is a great new character. Devious, cunning, greedy, and yet, harbouring a troubled past just as Po appears to be having too. The way the story continuously draws both these characters together is fascinating to watch, even the style of fighting that they made for Shen is very impressive visually. I know some have noted his err... character of voice, but I would call it charismatic. A little over the top sure, but it suits his background, and his steely resolve to take control over his former home. The moment you see him fight, you immediately see that he's actually bad ass.
The next big high note for this film is, the 3D. I mean.... wow! I was sitting in the centre of the front section of seats, and had the perfect place to stare in awe at all the gorgeous visuals. This could well be the pinacle of the technology so far, it is used with razor-sharp excecution, and a beautifully vibrant colour palette. My eyes never stopped darting across the screen during the major fights, because there was so many details to observe, and so much to enjoy. The 3D team for this film should be given high praise for thei dedication, this proves that 3D can indeed, benefit a movie.
And it's not even just the 3D or CG that amazes. There are two large scenes of 2D animation here, one at the credits, and one at a significant turning point that deals with Po's childhood. By using a simple animatin style with minimum dialogue, and adding the 3D-effects, it became a truely emotional sequence. The beauty and power in that two minutes solidifies everything great about the film up to that point. It blew me away, it may be a technique that is being copied more and more in animation today, but I adore seeing it every time.
And what else is to merit? The music by Hans Zimmer and John Powell is excellent, the A-List voice actors haven't lost their charm at all, and the story never stops grabbing your attention, If there's anything that drags the film down, it's ironicly.... the first film. Just the mere fact that we've seen the first film, makes this not quite as astonishing to see the second time round. It is the "bane" to all sequels, and there's no getting around it if you're following the same pattern, but at least it never felt old.
All in all, there's pretty much nothing I can say bad about Kung FU Panda 2, because pretty much everything is great. If you are a fan of animation, be it of any form, you will appreciate every frame of this film, the team really poured their heart and experiance into it, and it shows all the way through. It is definately worth the premium 3D ticket, is a perfect film for all the family, and will give you all the excitement the first movie did. The action once again, pays homage to the classic Martial Arts movies, the kids will cheer through it all, and the adults will love all the attention to detail and sheer awesomenes of it all. Or even cheer with the kids.
This is an enthusiastic Full Price, and has once again, exceeded my expectations. It may not be better than the original, at times it falls slightly short, and at times it does improve. But overall, it matches it. There's really not much more to say, I could go into the improved character development, final battle sequence, and some of the finer details on some of the jokes. But then that would be spoiling it, and this is one film worth the wait.
Thank you for reading. ;)