Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2
By Matthew Huntley
June 8, 2011

He's beautiful. He's also a dick.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a welcome rarity, a sequel that actually continues the original’s story instead of just retreading it. Unlike The Hangover Part II, which is unjustifiably breaking records at the box-office, Kung Fu Panda 2 makes an effort to take the series in a new direction, one that’s funny, visually inventive and surprisingly emotional. If only all sequels strived to be this good; just think about all the high-quality blockbusters we’d have during the summer movie season.

In this story, Po (voiced by Jack Black), the thickset yet lovable panda from China who was recently deemed the Dragon Warrior, has advanced in his kung fu training with the Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). The latest test he’s passed is stuffing 20 dumplings into his mouth.

Po also has a new enemy to face: an evil peacock named Shen (Gary Oldman), who sought to exploit his parents’ royal power in the name of greed. When a soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) prophesized he’d one day be defeated by a black and white warrior, Shen ordered all the pandas killed. Years later, he’s ransacking villages for refined metal in order to build a powerful cannon that could wipe out all of China. According to Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), it could also spell the end of kung fu.

That’s the plot, but the real life of the story takes shape after Po and the Furious Five do battle with Shen’s wolf bandits and he notices the symbol on their suits. It triggers in him a distant memory when he was a baby and Po suddenly begins to question his origins. To his surprise, he’s actually not the biological son of Mr. Ping (James Hong), the goose who runs his own noodle shop. Po must face his past, channel his inner peace and obtain the strength to defeat Shen.

All the memorable qualities from the first Kung Fu Panda - the flowing animation, the exciting fight choreography, the zesty one-liners and slapstick humor - are back for the sequel. That much was expected. What I didn’t expect was they’d be this good or inhabit such a rich and fully realized story. The screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, both of whom contributed to the original, develops the characters further so we learn and care more about them on a deeper level. It doesn’t merely recycle the same material, but builds on top of it to keep the saga moving forward. This may all sound a little silly because I’m talking about a computer animated panda who practices kung fu, but a good story is a good story, and I actually found myself responding to this one’s pathos and message.

The movie ends in such a way it leaves room for another installment and I hope the filmmakers take the time and energy to make this a trilogy, one we could look back on and say it just kept getting better without overstaying its welcome. The director, Jennifer Yuh, and the animators have invested a lot of care to make Kung Fu Panda 2 either just as good or better than its predecessor, which, if you’ve seen the first one, is saying a lot. And like the original, I reveled in this picture, laughing at the jokes, admiring the beauty of the animation, which is still able to provide a rush, and being drawn into the drama of the story. Not many sequels are good enough to warrant this kind of praise. Kung Fu Panda 2 is.