After the success of the against Tai Lung, Po is now on a quest to find inner peace with Master Shifu guiding him on his path. Meanwhile, a new villain has risen and has his sights set on destroying the dominance of kung fu. When Shifu learns of this challenger, he sends Po and the Furious Five on a quest to go to Lord Shen’s home city, Gongman City, to take down the dark lord. When they arrive, they attempt to free the imprisoned Master Storming Ox and Master Croc but are swarmed by an army of wolves and taken before Shen. During an earlier fight with the wolves and again with his encounter with Shen, Po realizes that his unknown past is starting to break through, which may give him more of an understanding about who he is and what happened to his parents.
Starring: Jack Black (Po), Dustin Hoffman (Shifu), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Gary Oldman (Shen), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane), James Hong (Mr. Ping), Michelle Yeoh (Soothsayer), Danny McBride (Wolf Boss), Dennis Haysbert (Master Storming Ox), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Master Croc)
The majority of the cast from the first film has returned to reprise their roles as kung fu warriors. Jack Black’s playful personality keeps Po light and humorous, even in the darkest of scenes. While the first film included a lot of soul searching to understand his role as the Dragon Warrior, he is able to represent his character in more of a pensive way at times while he tries to remember what happened to him when he was young. Angelina Jolie as Tigress has a much larger role in this film than the rest of the kung fu masters. While she was very emotionless in the first film, she is able to project moments of vulnerability. Dustin Hoffman has a reduced role but is still able to exhibit a sense of peace and wisdom. Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogan (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper) and David Cross (Crane) each have a bit more speaking parts but most of their elements are quick comments rather than in-depth storytelling. Gary Oldman is the newcomer as the dark Lord Shen, providing a consistent and compelling evil to a very damaged character. James Hong also returns with a great mix of comedy and compassion, particularly during Po’s search for his past.
Taking over in the second film was director Jennifer Yuh. Using this film as both an evolution in Po’s experience as a kung fu master and the opportunity to tell his backstory, the second film goes much deeper into a storyline than the first. Po’s search for inner peace is brought on by Shifu, explaining that his next lesson is to find a sense of calm to temper his distinct power. The problem for Po is that a particular symbol begins to spark a nightmarish memory involving fire, a couple older pandas and a blade-wielding peacock. Unable to make sense of the images, he challenges Mr. Ping about his past and only learns that he was found out back of the restaurant in a box of radishes and raised as Mr. Ping’s son. With this little knowledge and the details that begin to come out during his first encounter with Lord Shen, Po attempts to better understand why he is so distracted and what happened to him when he was a child. The focus may continue to really be just on Po but there is a little more integration of the Furious Five and backstory of the villain.
The presentation of the film continues to impress with its high-flying action, beautiful landscapes/scenes and dynamic characters. Though used only briefly in the first film, this sequel taps into the use of more traditional animation to represent the backstory for Po. As a child and existing with other pandas, Po’s past is colorfully brought to life through this style. The rest of the film includes the exciting explosions and action one would expect from a Michael Bay film but better integrated into the tone and depth of the story. While the Furious Five still feel like supporting characters, Tigress does get that slightly larger spotlight and the rest of the warriors are more important to the dialogue and action. While Po’s final battle may be a more 1:1 style of fighting, the rest of the film uses a little bit of sense to require the warriors to work together against the wolves.
While Kung Fu Panda was a good film, the sequel actually is much more developed and only includes a few awkward transitions that do not hurt the overall presentation. This is a very entertaining film that even has it moving moments.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5