The Boy and I spend his birthday together every year (since he was two, in fact), and that traditionally involves seeing a movie. There wasn’t much out—he’s tepid on the PG-13 action flicks, meaning X-Men: First Class was out of the question—but we hadn’t seen Kung Fu Panda 2 and, hey, popcorn is popcorn so off we went.
It sort of reminds me of The Hangover 2, in the sense that it’s virtually a remake rather than a sequel. Po, the titular panda, starts out with some skills and gets to go crime-fighting with his buddies, but once again he must face a challenge that requires a new level of Kung Fu. So, now he’s struggling less with basic competency and more with hyper-competency mixed with the sort of basic competency that allows him still to be a comical character.
And ya know what? The inevitable sequel will be exactly the same.
They set up Kung Fu Panda 3. It’s an inevitability. I mean, they’ve done this since Back to the Future. A movie’s a big success, so they shoot two sequels back-to-back. Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek—though, with Shrek they swore their story arc would require five movies, I think they still only planned the first two sequels after the first was a hit—and on and on. Doing two movies together reduces production costs, too, I believe, which offsets the diminishing box office for the third sequel (which is almost, but not always, certain).
Anyway, it pissed The Flower off. She likes her movies to end, dammit.
So, you probably want to know a little bit more about the actual movie. This film revolves around Po’s struggle to find his real origin. Kind of a bummer, actually, since one of my favorite parts of the first was that the obvious silliness of a panda having a goose for a father—a joke lampshaded when his father reveals the deep, dark secret of the noodle sauce.
But I suppose they couldn’t leave it like that. (Although, I swear, it wasn’t that uncommon when I was a kid for a cartoon to mix animal type families with utter disregard for genetics. I mean, it’s not that big a deal when you start by having talking, anthropomorphized animals, right? These days, only Spongebob Squarepants does it, that I know of, and Mr. Krabs’ great whale daughter’s mother is unknown.)
Anyway, the origin issue provides Po with the distraction he needs to be unable to defeat the villain, voiced this time by the incomparable Gary Oldman, who is a less bombastic villain than the first, though his plot is maybe more convincing.
The cast, by the way, is otherwise identical, except for stunt-casting Jean Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh and a couple other dudes as kung fu masters. There seems to be a lot less of everyone, though. Not sure if it’s because there are so many people on-screen or the demand for action crowded out a lot of dialogue but character development is light. (There’s a little more depth to Angelina Jolie’s tiger, though.)
Ultimately, it all works, if not as well as the first one, nearly as well. It moves quickly—a little too quickly in some cases, with the first action scene being a little, eh, chop suey—has plenty of laughs, and it’s almost too beautiful to look at.
The Boy and The Flower (who had already seen it) both liked it, but neither was particularly blown away.