Movie Reviews: Kung Fu Panda 2

I’ve seen my fair share of good sequels, it’s gotten to the point where it’s kind of unnerving.  One of my core beliefs in life is that sequels always suck.  Well if that’s the case how do I explain the Toy Story franchise?  Or how about Kung Fu Panda 2.

The first movie was enjoyable, with all the cheesy pop culture reference humor most kids movies tend to favor.  Except without the pop culture references.  Somehow Kung Fu Panda managed to capture the feel of a pop culture movie, without using any pop culture.  Despite its comedy, at its core it was a martial arts movie, and an origin story for the panda, Po.

Kung Fu Panda 2 takes that, replaces the pop culture feel of the first movie with surprisingly interesting character developments, and a subtler sense of humor (not something I ever thought I’d say about Jack Black).

The core of the story lies in Po discovering that his father, the goose, is not actually his father.  As the movie progresses he comes to learn what the audience already knew, that the peacock Shen, murdered his entire people.  I call including genocide in a kids movie a ballsy move.

Po has to come to terms with who he really is, and realizes that where he came from is not as important as where he is now.  And in the meanwhile he gets to do some awesome kung fu fighting.  Up to and including a climax that I will not spoil, I only need say that it was well foreshadowed and used perfectly.

As far as character relationships go, I’m not normally the kind of person who fancies the fat guy and the hot chick getting together (because I secretly hate fat people).  But in this case the two are a panda and a tiger, so that’s a whole other can of worms.  But taking everything into consideration, and thinking of the two as characters, not necessarily anthropomorphic animals (it’s less weird that way), I am amazed to say that the possible, maybe, perhaps, romantic subplot between Po and Tigress is the best written out of all the romances out of all the movies I’ve seen this year.  It’s there, in the undercurrents of the character interactions, never fully rearing its head.  And that’s why it’s so good.  The creative team obviously knows they’re going to have multiple movies to play with, so they are slowly building it up for a later date.  It’s subtle, yet clear, and all the more tantalizing for it.  Who the two characters are dictates how they interact, not because the script writer thinks every movie needs a romance plot.

So yeah, the kids movie about anthropomorphic kung fu animals had the most subtle and nuanced romance plot I’ve seen in a while.  Go figure.

Shen is an interesting villain, in that I never thought a peacock could be a badass animal.  But, surprisingly, he is, with the fluid animation giving some weight to his prowess.  The movie also gives him some depth, showing him as a complex human being bird.  He is not quite the megalomaniac, and actually shows regret at how his relationship with his parents was destroyed.  In the end however, he chooses to be the villain, leading to his destruction.

But martial arts are no match for the power of Shen’s GUNS!!!  Or cannons in this case.  Normally I would complain about hamfisted anti-gun messages in movies, but I really can’t do that here.  For one, there was no judgement call on guns in the real world.  And even though I like guns, the advent of firearms did spell the end of physical combat as the dominating force in war, leading to the civilianization of martial arts.  So really, the movie has a point.  What the characters were fighting against was this:

And that, friends, is a noble cause.

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