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Friday, June 3, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Release Date: 5-26-2011)

        And so, the summer of sequels and reboots presses on. Summer 2011 is set to break the record for continuation films released in one season, and with Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hangover, you know we're just getting started. Alongside the Wolfpack sequel arrives Kung Fu Panda 2, a rare movie whose predecessor actually seemed to merit a part Two. Jack Black returns to voice Po, the titular panda, and while he still bumbles and makes food-themed jokes every Two minutes or so, he is now the Dragon Warrior, and has thus earned the respect and admiration of those around him. But Po's amazing new life is threatened when terrifying flashbacks (presented in interesting 2D animation bits) confuse his family linage, causing him to ask himself who he is and where he came from. What's more, the only one who seems to know the secrets of Po's past is Shen (Gary Oldman), an evil peacock bent on ruling all of China who might just have the firepower to see his dream become reality.

        In much the same fashion as something like Avatar or Transformers, the Kung Fu Panda movies are only minimally interested in plot, using it primarily as a springboard into some spectacular action sequences and dazzling animation. Of the Hour and Half that Panda occupies the screen for, at least an hour must be spent with things whirling, twisting, kicking and punching. It can feel a little excessive at times, but it's easier to swallow considering these are by far the best action sequences to hit the big screen so far this year, all presented in some truly effective 3D. The set pieces are brilliant, the moves of the combatants are fast yet readily observable, and you can almost feel the fuzz on the fighting animals. As a Forty-minute action short, KFP2 might have been a masterpiece.

        But, alas, the movie is as it is, and we trudge through the same sorts of abandonment and identity issues as any number of other kid's flicks. It's not bad stuff: The game voice cast includes the likes of Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, and Dustin Hoffman, and a few jokes really hit their mark. But there's a feeling, inescapable at any single point in the film, that the story doesn't really matter even to those involved, which probably isn't such a good sign. Still, when the panda is kickin' ass, this movie is kickin' ass, and that's a pretty sturdy majority of the time. It may feel slight, and highly disposable, but hey, you're in the summer of sequels now aren't you? Just take your amazing animal on animal kung fu action and be happy already!

Grade: B

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