Kung Fu Panda 2 Review

(2.5 STARS)

Kung Fu Panda 2, like so many other animated sequels (and sequels in general, really), is brought down by questions about its necessity. When money is the only compelling reason to make a film, it seems anathema to come up with a concept that doesn’t feel somewhat unworthy. It’s what plagued Cars 2, and to a lesser extent, this film. Kung Fu Panda 2 isn’t the colossal disappointment last year’s Pixar entry was, but it’s definitely a step down from the surprisingly solid original. The film looks great, and the action scenes have a great deal of energy. There’s even an emotional throughline that feels satisfying. But once the credits started rolling, the only question on my mind was, “Who cares?”

Po (voice of Jack Black), fresh off becoming the Dragon Warrior, has settled in as one of China’s biggest kung fu celebrities. Alongside his fellow warriors, the Furious Five, Po travels the land defending its citizens from the forces of evil. His master, Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), informs him one day that there’s a force coming soon that will threaten everyone and everything they know and love—including kung fu itself. In order to stop it, Po will need to find true inner peace, which proves incredibly difficult, especially when he starts to suspect that this force has a link to his mysterious past.

Plot-wise, Kung Fu Panda 2 works much better when it’s focused on issues of technology and changing with the times. It’s an unusual path for the film to go on, while the questions about Po’s past feel obvious. It’s interesting to see Po, Shifu, and the others genuinely frightened for their way of life, especially because the threat against it seems very real. But is anyone surprised by the way the thread about Po’s past resolves itself? I certainly wasn’t.

If you’ve seen the first Kung Fu Panda, you know probably know two things for certain about this film: It’s beautifully animated and the action is very well-choreographed. One of the trademarks of Dreamworks Animation is their exaggerated character design, and that’s implemented here, as well. But beyond that, the world they all populate is gorgeously rendered, and their battles are hilariously over-the-top.

Jack Black is far from my favorite actor, and Po is more or less modeled after him, so it’s safe to say he’s not my favorite animated character. I also think the Furious Five members blend together way too much. That said, characters like Shifu and Po’s father are a lot of fun, and this film’s villain—a peacock voiced by Gary Oldman—is great.

My mixed reaction ultimately stems from the fact that I never saw any creative reasons to make this film, and the filmmakers fail to prove me wrong. It’s breezy fun, I’ll admit, but movies this disposable and forgettable are hard for me to get behind with any real passion. Watch it if you must, but don’t expect anything remarkable.

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