Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 6/11/11
Music: Hans Zimmer and John Powell
Cast: Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Dustin Hoffman, Jean-Claude Van Damme

A delightful sequel that ditches the juvenile humor of the first film in favor of more outrageously kinetic action scenes. Whereas the original film was a traditional kung fu underdog training film, this one revisits the classic "martial arts vs. gunpowder" conundrum. A power-mad peacock named Shen (deliciously wicked Gary Oldman) has developed a powerful cannon and intends to subjugate all of China with his military might. When Po (Jack Black) learns of Shen's doings, he and the Furious Five set out to stop him and his evil plans. Naturally, they're no match for Shen's awesome firepower, and they are utterly defeated. Something about Shen triggers forgotten memories in Po, and the two of them are linked by a tragic event in Po's past. When all hope seems lost, Po manages to tap into his own inner strength and master the essence of Tai-Chi in order to combat Shen and his warships.

Above all, the film is gorgeous and bursting with color and movement. The art direction is stunning, and the Asian touches are delightful. The underdog humor that dragged down the first film is completely absent, and while Po is still a clumsy oaf, he can also kick some serious ass. The Furious Five are wonderful and the fight choreography is brilliant. I haven't had this much fun watching a film in quite a while. Gary Oldman gives an outstanding performance as Shen, and the character's flourishes have all the trademarks of a classic kung fu villain. The story is sweet and charming, without being too overwrought with sentimentality. Overall, an exciting thrill ride from start to finish, although the brief epilogue leaves a bad taste.