by Hugo Gordon
2008’s Kung Fu Panda was a pleasant surprise – hilarious, exciting and visually arresting, despite being a kid’s film containing, shudder, Jack Black. Does the sequel live up to its predecessor? The answer is a qualified yes.
Kung Fu Panda 2 begins with Po (Black, as the eponymous panda) discovering – to his shock, if not our own – that the goose who raised him might not be his biological father. He attempts to discover the truth about his past, while facing down a new enemy, the evil peacock Shen. Proceedings are notably darker this time round, perhaps something to with Guillermo del Toro’s presence amongst the creative team.
The problem is that this instalment takes a while to get going. The jokes aren’t as funny, the characters not as interesting, the proceedings not as exciting. Luckily all this changes during the film’s second half, as Po and Shen come face to face. There’s a series of thrilling scenes here, the best being a pursuit involving a Chinese Dragon and a lucky escape from a collapsing pagoda. By the time the film’s brief running time ends, excitement has been well and truly delivered.
The performances are a mixed bag. There’s nothing wrong per se with Black’s performance, but nothing particularly interesting either. Elsewhere actors like Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan are wasted on a script that gives them precious few lines. Luckily Gary Oldman is on hand to save the day – he’s clearly having a ball as Shen, and the film picks up whenever the feathery fiend is on screen.
It also helps that film’s animation is arguably the finest ever seen in cinema. The traditional CGI animation that dominates most of the story is top-notch, but even more interesting is the variety in styles on show, from the Disney-reminiscent cartoons of Po’s memories, to the Chinese paper cut-outs of Shen’s history. If nothing else, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a visual triumph.
So Kung Fu Panda 2 is no Toy Story 3, but then it’s not really fair to measure it against such a masterpiece. Compared against its predecessor, Panda 2 comes up short in many respects, but in a few areas it surpasses the original. In the end, what we are left with is a sequel that won’t shake the earth, but is nonetheless better than we had any right to expect.