New Release Tuesday: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

30 05 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 is the sequel to the surprise 2008 hit, and although it has only been three years it honestly feels like forever considering how quickly animated films get churned out these days. This time we pick up soon after the first film and our hero Po, the Dragon Warrior, is training in the temple with the furious five. All the major characters are back except this time around they aren’t just trying to save the Valley, they are trying to save Kung Fu altogether as an evil Peacock (oddly not the first time I’ve heard that over the past year) threatens to take over the world thanks to the invention of gun powder. Po also starts having visions of his youth and his quest is conflicted by his desire to find out the truth of his past. I’ll be honest, I loved the first Kung Fu Panda, aside from the “made for American children” aspect of it, I thought it was a fantastic adaptation of a unique genre doing justice to not only the movies that inspired it but to the culture that produced them as well. Unfortunately, Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn’t feel like this at all, but an American attempt a Wuxia comedy-drama, exactly what the first didn’t and why it stood out.

 “This could be the end of Kung Fu.”

There are two major storylines in Kung Fu Panda 2, the first is Po’s desire to discover his past which (somehow) coincides with his attempt to learn his next lesson: inner peace. The plot that moves the film forward is the furious five’s (six’s?) quest to stop Shen, the maniacal Peacock with guns. Po’s journey is a standard man vs self, except that he is never in conflict with himself. He is always searching for answers from other people; most of the movie has him asking Shen for what he knows… and really the big piece of advice that clears it all up for him is that his obvious memories he believes are dreams are in fact memories. Po is the audience’s conduit in which we interpret the movie, they set that up clearly in the first film and continue it here, so when his great epiphany is something incredibly obvious to the audience it looses most if not all it’s impact. Not to mention his inner-peace can’t really be called inner-peace at all by the movies own chronology and interpretation of the term, but I’m not even going to get into that.

The central storyline is consists of the battle against Shen and it seems like a western interpretation of an eastern theme done wrong. Although not as common in Wuxia films, the idea of martial arts vs Industry (ie. firearms) is a very common one in Samurai films. Kung Fu Panda 2 takes this theme but only the title and none of the substance that goes into it. It is about the warrior ideals, honor, and integrity over the dehumanization of violence and its consequences. It is an emotional battle, only there is absolutely no emotion in this conflict at all. I’m not even exaggerating, I didn’t see one character involve themselves at any level or even mention what it was really about. It was there only as a plot device which really surprises me considering how much care was taken in the first film.

“My fist hungers for justice! “

The true failing of Kung Fu Panda 2 has to be within the fight scenes. The first film had only three or four and each had much more than just the fight taking place. Each scene involved one bad guy, Tai Lung, and we get to see his power. First against an incredibly well guarded prison, then against the furious five, and then against Shifu. Each time Tai Lung overcame an increasingly difficult barrier, and all appearing greater than Po making the foretold final fight all that more dramatic. Everything in Kung Fu Panda from the opening scene built to that moment. In Kung Fu Panda 2 we have our heroes getting into a battle not even 10 minutes into the movie, and after that we barely get a 5-10 minute break where they aren’t fighting. This dulls the action especially when all they are fighting are henchmen, the exact same henchmen over and over. There is no build up, just action scenes serving no real purpose outside of taking up screen time. In all fairness though, the movies climax doesn’t even occur against the antagonist, it is Po vs the Cannons. Hard to get emotionally invested when the enemy is an inanimate object.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a mess. The story, the structure, the character arcs etc are all just poor. That said, it has very pretty animation and I believe it may be even funnier than the first, but the animation and humor only accounted for part of what made the first one great. I guess it is an OK way to beat the heat this summer but if you expect anything close to the original in quality you will be disappointing.

Score 55/100




One response

15 06 2011


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: