Monday, May 30, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 - A Sequel With Kick

After the success and popularity of Kung Fu Panda, Dreamworks announced a sequel. For a time, it was called Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom, but only for the sake of rhyme. After they dropped that portion of the title, I was curious to see the sequel based on the ads and the fact that I enjoyed the original. After finally seeing the movie, I think Dreamworks has managed to continue keeping this franchise entertaining and keeping the feel of a true martial arts movie.

At the beginning, we learn about our new antagonist, an albino peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). After the invention of fireworks, he seeks to harness its power to fuel his own ambitions to rule over China. However, he is banished from Gongmen City after committing mass genocide to avert a soothsayer's prophecy that one day, he would be defeated by a warrior of black and white. Outraged, he vows to one day return and reign supreme. We then see Po (Jack Black), who is now living as the Dragon Warrior and working with the Furious Five to maintain safety within the Valley of Peace. While talking with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), he is interrupted by news of a raid by wolves who seek refined metal. During the ensuing battle, he loses focus and has a memory of his childhood. When the wolves run off, Po learns of Lord Shen and his new weapon, one with the potential to threaten the existence of kung fu. Po and the Furious Five take off for Gongmen City to defeat Lord Shen, while Po tries to seek inner peace and confront the dark mysteries of his past.

The story was executed pretty well, with a good set of voice actors who really sell their roles nicely. It should be noted that out of the Furious Five, Tigress (Angelina Jolie) is more prominent, but it is justified in that she relates most to Po's situation regarding his attempt to figure out exactly who he is. Jack Black still does a good Po, and it helps when during the movie's sad moments he can get that emotion out of his character. I was actually surprised by the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme voiced Master Croc, but he still did a good job, even if his character didn't have a big speaking part. I also found Lord Shen to be an interesting villain, if more visually because he's a bit more stereotypical than Tai Lung was in the previous installment. While the stereotype does come from a simple act of revenge, it was still fascinating to find out how far he was willing to go in order to make it reality.

Unlike other animated movies, there isn't really that much of a universal color palette. Instead, there is a blend of warm and cool colors that actually make the setting more realistic to the viewer. Different art styles are also used, such as one where everything is made of Chinese paper, but built like a puppet. Similarly, there are times, during Po's memories, where a traditionally animated art style is used to go seamlessly between the past and the present.

The CGI in the movie was absolutely perfect, looking even better than before. It was clear that a painstaking amount of detail was put into the environments, including the weather dynamics on the characters and surroundings. The unique cannon balls in this movie, a combination of a cannon ball and a firework, also display effects in motion, which just looked cool. What really sells the effects however, is the 3D used for the movie. Unlike a lot of other movies where 3D is invoked by throwing objects at the screen to varying degrees, it was used here to create a sense of depth. This was the better route to take, as the movie felt more immersive with this type of 3D and I wish more movies would use it.

As this is a martial arts movie, it was fun to see how creative some of the moves were, such as the different tag team maneuvers used by Po and the Furious Five to take down an entire army of wolves. It was also great to watch them get over the top, such as the effect of gaining inner peace as demonstrated by Shifu and later, Po. Hans Zimmer's score goes well with the onscreen action, although you may be paying more attention to the visuals than the music at that point.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was definitely more ambitious than the first, with upgraded effects and a bigger scale plot, complete with well-handled character development on Po's part and no shortage of humor when infused with the drama. I'm not sure exactly how I would compare it to the first, but I would say that it's at least just as good, if not maybe a little better. Those who saw Kung Fu Panda will enjoy this, as well as those who are curious about a Dreamworks animated film like this. As a final note, the ending is big, if maybe a little confusing, but it also sets up a possible Kung Fu Panda 3, which I would love to see from this studio in the future.

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