When movies began to be more than just photographed stage plays, when they began to distinguish themselves through editing and photographic techniques and came to be considered worthy of being “reviewed,” like the older arts, and when the august occupation of film criticism was announced, who could have imagined that practitioners of the profession would find themselves, one day, attempting to analyse a story with a stuffed toy for a protagonist?
There's a fleeting frustration with today's cinema, whose egalitarian model of distribution is at once boon and bane. This allows the critic to review the latest and most lustrous from Hollywood at the same time as every other critic in the world. But on the other hand, the films that receive simultaneous worldwide release — the ones that, well, panda to large audiences — are the ones that do not exactly warrant “reviewing.”
This is the crisis the critic faces every summer, held captive by sequels and superhero sagas. There's plenty to write on. But what do you writeabout? You could, of course, make the reverse argument for the latter part of the year, when we are glutted with glum dramas whose jaws are clenched with the determination to deposit cast and crew on the Oscar podium, and when we begin to yearn for a little light entertainment — you know, like those frothy summer movies. But at least for the reviewer, there's meat to chew on.
The only meat inKung Fu Panda 2 is on the person of Po (voiced, once again, by Jack Black). With every ounce of cleverness expended on the action sequences — bright and brisk, yet overly reminiscent of Spielbergian set pieces from a time summer movies used to set their sights a lot higher — the lesson-heavy dramatic portions are deplorably undernourished. In the first film, Po learnt that he could be whatever he believed himself to be. Here, after realising that he's been adopted (he's not exactly the brightest of bulbs, given that his father is a goose), he learns that your parents aren't necessarily the ones who birthed you but the ones that brought you up.
This wisdom comes about as Po faces the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who murdered his father and mother (or so we think, until the end opens up possibilities for a second sequel). Shen is this film's triumph. Whoever thought of a peacock as a villain had the right idea — this is a vain creature with plumage that flows like a royal robe and crowned with a crest. It's no surprise he wants to rule China. To see him being killed by Po is to imagine Darth Vader's annihilation by The Three Stooges. It can happen only in a cartoon movie.
Kung Fu Panda 2
Cast:Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan
Storyline:A panda rallies to prevent a peacock from conquering China
Bottomline:Energetic action sequences, little else