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When Kung Fu Panda was released in 2008, the movie was a diamond in the rough. Needless to say, these weren’t achievements readily discernible from a title like Kung Fu Panda and the tagline “featuring the voice of Jack Black”, but it still get a huge success, and that leads to making its sequel. As a sequel of a big movie, Kung Fu Panda 2 full movie faced a challenge in the raised expectations of its audience and the potential staleness of its subject matter.
In this second chapter, Po the Panda (Jack Black) is now The Dragon Master living alongside his idols The Furious Five including Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). Po finally has the life he dreamed of, but that happiness is soon shattered. One day, while in the midst of battle, Po is confronted by the Wolf Boss (Danny McBride). His armor bears a strange insignia sending all kinds of repressed memories flooding back into Po’s mind depicting his days as a child and hinting at his true origins. These unlocked memories knock Po off his kung fu center. Then, he is instructed by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to learn new techniques of inner peace and harmony if he wants to both settle his soul and take his kung fu to the next level. Of course, there is little time to meditate as The Furious Five and Po having to deal with the evil Lord Shen’s (Gary Oldman). Shen has developed a new weapon that could conquer both kung fu and China. They set off for the city to stop Shen and save the day.
The great strength of Kung Fu Panda franchise lies in its balance. The comedy was fun, Jack Black was well-suited to the role of Po, the martial arts action was epic and exciting to behold, and the script was so good on so many levels. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a much more slick and polished product than the original.
Po and Kung Fu Panda are a recognized brand, and inevitably that change in awareness was going to affect the film. The first installment had breathing room to build a tight and cohesive multi-layered narrative, but this sequel just dives right into a formulaic summer blockbuster plot. After ten minutes, we have the conflict, villain and the lesson Po needs to learn all set in place at rushed speed making this sequel functions more like a three-act superhero movie with fight sequence in the beginning, pivotal action sequences in the middle and big set piece climax at the end. While some of the action is definitely slicker, a lot of it inevitably falls into that category of jumbled, no-stakes and hard-to-follow sequences you may see in so many modern action flicks. A slightly disappointing downturn.
Thankfully, most of these issues end at the halfway mark of the movie. What we get towards the end is the smarter, more meaningful and resonant Kung Fu Panda that many critics fell in love with. The filmmakers indulge less in arbitrary action and Jack Black schtick to spend more time developing Po and expanding those of themes of identity, mentality, harmony and destiny that made the first movie so great.
If there is one pleasant surprise in the movie, it’s Lord Shen. Similar to the villain in the first movie, Shen is more complicated than your standard cartoon antagonist, and the movie wisely touches on some of the deeper issues having twisted an otherwise skilled and wise kung fu master into a tyrant. With Gary Oldman handling the voice, Shen truly becomes a full-fledged character/foil for Po.
With the exception of the final set piece, I can’t say the new locales of the sequel were all that exciting. Most of the movie takes place in cities and buildings which is a stark contrast to the open terrains and plush Chinese countryside featured in the first Kung fu panda movie. More interiors also mean darker tones, and darker tones and 3D glasses mean murkier picture quality. That has ultimately detracted audience from the viewing experience. The good news is that the film ends on a strong note with an epic and explosive battle that should leave you Street Fighter fans especially satisfied.
The first Kung Fu Panda was a great movie that arrived on the expectation of a bad one. Kung Fu Panda 2 full movie is a good movie that arrives on the expectation of a great one. Despite its drawbacks, the kids will still love it, and it’s still epic and entertaining for adults. The movie still manages to say something inspired and meaningful even if it takes a little longer to do so.