Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh, 2011)

When it’s 90+ degrees and you’re too lazy to haul an air conditioner into your bedroom, you find yourself just wanting to see a movie in theaters. Any movie. Kung Fu Panda 2 is that any movie. Being one of the few sequels this year that I was mildly curious about, I figured I’d let Midnight in Paris ruminate in my head. Plus, I needed a breather after watching Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes the night before – a film about a panda fighting a peacock seemed like the next logical step.

Kung Fu Panda 2 follows Po (voiced well by Jack Black) almost immediately after the events of the first. Whereas the previous film focused largely on Po’s exploits as he trained to defend his town, in this sequel, we find that Po is on a mission of self-discovery. Traumatizing by lingering memories of his infancy, Po and his partners seek to engage Shen (voiced exceptionally well by Gary Oldman), a sinister peacock who has a few too many things in common with Macbeth.

Written by Jonathan Aibel &Glenn Berger, Kung Fu Panda 2 lacks consistency and is hindered by its cast of bombastic characters. Character motivations, particular those of the central villain, are misguided and muddled – Shen’s genocidal tendencies seem less convincing once we reach the film’s conclusion while the whole “let’s end Kung-Fu” shtick he proposes from the onset is oddly forgotten.  Outside of Po and Shen, supporting characters rarely speak at all, only offering typical one-liners that can be hit-or-miss. It’s disappointing too, as I saw potential in a true ensemble working together, but the sense of unity that Aibel and Berger attempt to provoke is simply not there.

Jennifer Yuh, making her feature film directorial debut, does an exceptional job with framing frantic actions sequences while juxtapositioning them with more tender moments. It’s really the script that prohibits growth though – there’s a repetitiveness to it that makes Yuh’s direction falter toward the film’s close.

Despite its flaws, Kung Fu Panda 2 is an inoffensive affair. Light and breezy, the film may not warrant acclaim, but it’s adequate enough to make for a pleasant experience. The visual design is sharp and the Yuh’s approach to fight sequences was impressive. Though I must say, timing likely played a pivotal role in my appreciation for the film – maybe I was just glad to be out of the hot sun’s way for an hour and a half.

 Rating: 5/10