Featuring the voices of: Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh, and James Hong.
Fight Choreography by Rodolphe Guenoden
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Kung Fu Panda was a huge hit when it came out, at the time the biggest hit Dreamworks animation had that wasn’t named Shrek. After the film became a huge success, Dreamworks let it slip that they had 6 Kung Fu Panda films planned, that would tell the story of Po. Without a doubt it’s an ambitious undertaking, and now we have Kung Fu Panda 2. Is there enough story to sustain 6 films?
I don’t know, but this film proves that the answer may be closer to yes than you might think.
The film opens with a 2-D animation, just like the previous film, but this time we are told the story of Lord Shen (Oldman), a prince in his province who yearns to be a great emperor and rule China. Shen is told by his father’s Soothsayer (Yeoh) that if he continues on his quest, a warrior of black and white would destroy him. Shen scoffs at this prophecy, and goes on a killing spree, destroying every panda village he could find, wiping them all out. For his evil deed Shen’s father cast him out, and years later the story begins…
Po (Black) is now a fully integrated member of the Furious Five–er, six now. The Five now have come to love Po, and completely accept him as the Dragon Warrior. Shifu has reached inner peace due the events of the previous film, and begins to teach the same to Po when a nearby village is being raided by Lord Shen’s wolf guards. Po and the Furious Five face them in a fantastic fight that shows just how good Po is, and how he fights as one with the Five, but the wolves escape when Po sees a symbol on their armor and has a flashback to something that happened when he was a baby…
Meanwhile, in Gongmen City, Lord Shen approaches the Kung Fu Council, headed by Master Thundering Rhino, along with Lord Croc (JCVD) and Master Storming Ox. He challenges them for his father’s throne, and defeats the other lords to get to the Rhino, whom he is unable to defeat, and unleashes a new weapon, a cannon, and kills Master Rhino. Shifu (Hoffman) is alerted to this, and sends Po and the Five to go and stop him, but little does Po know that facing Lord Shen means facing who he really is and where he comes from. Secrets are revealed, and Po’s life will never be the same again…
The story here is very much an old school kung-fu film revenge story, although it doesn’t start out that way. There is far more drama than in the previous film, as this film doesn’t question whether Po is the Dragon Warrior. It questions who Po actually is, and why his father is a goose. Po goes on a journey that changes him, and it is a well told story. The audience really gets to see the Furious Five in action the entire film this time. No bite size morsels here. There isn’t much of Shifu in this film, but that’s okay, because when he does appear it’s worth it. I was saddened that there wasn’t any Master Oogway, since he ascended in the previous film, but I was happy to see he was the Dreamworks logo at the beginning of the film. I guess there’s more Master Oogway love out there than I thought! (If there’s a Master Oogway T-shirt I’d buy it in a heartbeat.)
Jack Black once again does a great job as Po, and handles the dramatic scenes with ease. Angelina Jolie takes a softer-but-not-quite performance as Tigress, who doesn’t often show much emotion, but when it appears, it’s heartwarming to see how much she truly cares about Po. All of the rest of the five do a great job, and Jackie Chan gets more speaking lines than what Monkey had in the previous film, but then again they all do. Gary Oldman plays Lord Shen like the ruthless opportunist that he is, cunning and smart, but cannot get his ego out of his own way, which proves to be his undoing. And for anyone wondering, Lord Croc (JCVD) DOES do the splits, which made me laugh out loud. Funny enough that Soothsayer, as played by Michelle Yeoh, turns out to be not so different from her last role as Dr. Yu in True Legend.
The fighting is even better in this film than in the last. It’s fast, but not so much that you can’t see the wonderful fight choreography. The fight inside the palace toward the middle of the film is as much a showstopper as the prison escape from the first film, and the first fight of Po and the Five versus the wolf warriors was terrific. Once again this is like a Sammo Hung film in animated disguise, but tossing in his cohorts Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao for good measure. Each member of the Five have a way of fighting that is immediately recognized as kung-fu, and they way they aid each other is a fun thing to see. Lord Shen is a dangerous fighter, but not in the same way that Tai Lung was in the first film. Shen is an intelligent backstabber who uses knives and a spear to fight with grace and speed rather than power and rage.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is better than the first film in many ways, and the surprise ending alone shows that Po’s personal journey will continue. So there could be four more chapters? I’m excited to see what they do next!
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) They really outdid themselves, and give Rodolpho a hand for having the animators stage fight choreography that’s every but as complex as anything you’d see in an old school Shaw Brothers film.
STAR POWER: (10) Just look at the names above. Big named stars mixed with martial arts stars. Wow.
FINAL GRADE: (10) A fantastic animated film that trumps the original. Po’s journey is a dramatic one that changes his character, and deepens his relationships with the Furious Five. A great tribute to all martial arts films, and why we love them so much!
NEXT: Bruce Li returns for The Image of Bruce Lee!