I had heard good things about Kung Fu Panda 2 and I quite liked the original movie, so I had high hopes for this, but I ended up disappointed. The problem is not, as with so many sequels, that they failed to come up with an adequate story. The story is, if anything, better than the original.
To begin with, our fat clumsy panda hero Po (Jack Black) has achieved his original dream of becoming the Dragon Warrior, a famous and very skilled (though gluttonous) master of Kung Fu.
DRAGON WARRIOR: My fist hungers for Justice!
SFX: (stomach rumbling.)
DRAGON WARRIOR: That was my fist!
Now he faces a series of new challenges. He is shocked to learn that he is adopted. (He might have guessed that the goose wasn’t his real father.) The evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has mastered the secrets of gunpowder and is poised to conquer all of China. Most confusing of all, Po’s old teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has told him that to succeed he must find a path to Inner Peace.
This is all very well but the main attraction of the original movie was in the action sequences, which perfectly captured (or at least parodied) the balletic fight scenes of a Hong Kong Kung Fu movie. (Really you don’t watch this sort of movie for the plot.)
Now, three years later, the computers are more powerful and the computer-generated action sequences are faster and more detailed, but they are uninspiring and uninvolving. This seems to be characteristic of action movies these days, even the live action ones. I am increasingly convinced that the technology of CGI action sequences has gone past the point of diminishing returns and into the region of negative returns. The CGI artists need to dial things way back, review the laws of physics, and relearn the art of creating action sequences that the cerebellum will accept as at least semi-believable.
And something needs to be done about how dim everything looks. The original movie was bright and beautiful. This seems to be a standard problem with movies filmed in 3-D, even when they are viewed in non-headache-inducing 2-D. They all end up dim and murky. Hey you technical wizards: before awarding yourselves another Oscar, how about making a movie that doesn’t look like crap?