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Kung Fu Panda 2

It has been an underwhelming year so far at the movies. By this time last year, I had given out a good number of perfect or near perfect scores, but 2011 has disappointed me. Films like Rango and Source Code have stood proud as the best this year has offered, yet neither of them were truly great. I’ve been waiting many months for a movie to come along and really impress me, something that can make me laugh, cry and excite me all at the same time. That movie has finally come in the form of Kung Fu Panda 2. It’s a tour de force, a real achievement in not just animation, but filmmaking in general and it proves once and for all that animation can be just as funny, unique and emotionally gripping as live action cinema. Let’s just put it this way. If this were released last year, Toy Story 3 would have had a run for its money.

When we last saw Po (Jack Black), he was learning to be a kung fu master. He was inexplicably deemed the Dragon Warrior and was tasked with the responsibility of defeating an impending evil heading his way. Because of his large stature and clumsy mannerisms, he was ridiculed by the Furious Five, who refused to believe he held the power to protect their people. They were wrong, of course, and now Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu) have accepted them into their clan. But a kung fu warrior’s work is never done and a new evil has emerged in the form of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock determined to take over China.

It must be said that Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel of the “if it ain’t broke…” variety. The original film was a solid piece of work in itself and it would be foolish to mess with the formula too much. However, just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked and made better and that’s precisely what was done here. Kung Fu Panda 2 is funnier and more exciting than the original and its heart seems to have grown tenfold.

Throughout this film’s brief hour and a half runtime, Po goes on a journey of self discovery that is more profound than anything presented in the first movie. As he ventures into battle, he begins to have visions of his family, giving him a desire to learn who he is and where he came from. His discoveries aren’t always pleasant, however, which gives the film an unexpected darker tone than its predecessor. It deals with the idea of making the right choice, even if it’s not the easy one. To elaborate would constitute spoilers, but you will undoubtedly feel sadness for Po as he learns the inescapable truth of his past.

That’s not to say Kung Fu Panda 2 is all dark. It still retains the playful exuberance that made the first movie so darn enjoyable. Also returning is the vibrant and distinctive animation (even when obfuscated by the 3D glasses) that seamlessly transitions from lush computer animation to hand drawn sequences that appropriately elicit the feeling of Chinese shadow puppetry. Perhaps best of all is that the characters are just as charming as you remember. Po is still the awkward, hunger fueled jokester you remember him as. He’s just a little more agile and skilled than before. He also shows more confidence, having been accepted as a legitimate kung fu master, and isn’t afraid to spout off one-liners that are hilariously used to parody various action movie clichés.

The Furious Five that accompany Po are better handled as well. Rather than endlessly make fun of him as they did in the first film, they now see him as a part of their family. It creates a sense of camaraderie among the crew and gives them more sympathetic personalities. The most surprising character, however, comes in the form of Lord Shen, who at first glance is too graceful to be threatening—after all, a peacock isn’t the most ferocious animal on the planet—but looks can be deceiving. He may not have the physical presence of the last film’s antagonist, but he is nevertheless ruthless and destructive. He delights in chaos and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It’s a cold, calculated approach to villainy, just one of many aspects the filmmakers have carefully thought through.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a wonderful movie. It works on so many different levels, from the pleasing aesthetics to the unbelievable action, that it’s practically guaranteed to please everybody who watches it. While the children they bring will surely enjoy it, adults in the audience may find something deeper hidden in what looks like an otherwise simple tale. To summarize this review, Kung Fu Panda 2 is flat out amazing.

Kung Fu Panda 2 receives 5/5



Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are unquestionably one of the greatest comic duos working today. When separated, their abilities are easy to scrutinize (as seen with Pegg in the atrocious How to Lose Friends & Alienate People), but put them together and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. If Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were grand slams, consider their latest, Paul, an inside-the-park home run. The reaction may be the same, yet you can’t help but feel like it isn’t entirely deserved.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are sci-fi nerds. They produce their own science fiction comic book, they staunchly believe in aliens and they even speak Klingon. Their dorky personalities mean they belong at one place: Comic-Con. And that’s where they are when the film begins. When the event is over, however, they embark on a tour of American UFO hot spots, only to accidentally run into an alien. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and he has just escaped Area 51 where the government was planning on cutting out his brain and studying it. He needs to get home, so he convinces Graeme and Clive to help him.

Paul is funny. Getting that statement out of the way seems necessary because that’s what most people want to know. Its primary goal is to make you laugh and it mostly succeeds. What disappoints the most about Paul, however, is that it also aims to be a satire of the science fiction genre, but mistakes satire for references. The film features some clever nods to everything from Mork & Mindy to Star Wars and includes a particularly funny bit that shows how Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for his classic hit, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but aside from a few moments, like a great joke poking fun at how slow spaceships take off at the end of sci-fi movies, Paul doesn’t so much satirize as it does pay homage. Their previous, aforementioned films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, wickedly satirized the horror and action genres, and the former was even able to make an interesting statement on apathy in regards to a generation that lumbers around like they’re already dead. When compared, it’s easy to see that Paul is empty. It lacks the intellectual depth of those films and instead relies on four letter words to garner laughs.

So I suppose it’s good I’m immature. I couldn’t help but get a kick of the foul mouthed Paul, who in one breath denounces religion in front of a Bible thumping, trailer park owner, played by Kristen Wiig, who finds logic in what he says and begins to go down the path of impurity, which includes cursing for the first time (a trait for which she just can't find a rhythm). Along with Wiig, there’s a great supporting cast here, including, but not limited to, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman. With the exception of Bateman, whose comedic talent is wasted playing the straight faced, no nonsense FBI agent, everybody lends some much needed help to the film by making otherwise unfunny jokes funny through their delivery.

The would-be best supporting player, however, the one who is known for playing one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time, is seen and not heard until the end, a reveal that would have been amusing had this person’s voice not been so recognizable. It’s a wasted opportunity and an easy laugh is lost, which is similar to how the whole movie plays out. Paul hits just enough right notes to be passable, but if you’re familiar with Pegg and Frost’s previous collaborations, it’s impossible not to feel somewhat underwhelmed.

Paul receives 3/5


The Green Hornet

Films based on existing properties carry baggage. Those who have no previous experience with said property look at it differently than fans. While the former can look at it with a blank slate and no preconceived notions, the latter group, at least to some extent, expects it to follow the property’s traditional formula. It is this stark divide that will keep The Green Hornet from reaching major success. Irritated echoes that it was nothing like the old television and radio shows rang throughout the theater as the film came to a close. I can’t vouch for that claim because my ignorance with the franchise stretches far. I fit snugly into the no-previous-experience crowd, which allowed me to enjoy it for what it was, though it’s still a messy movie that comes just shy of being recommendable.

The story is mighty familiar. It follows a rich kid who has just inherited his family’s wealth after the death of his father and decides to throw on a mask and clean up the mean streets. The rich kid this time (as opposed to Bruce Wayne) is named Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), who suddenly finds himself in charge of his father’s renowned newspaper, The Sentinel, which he uses to spread the news of his alter ego, The Green Hornet. His sidekick (and former coffee maker), Kato (Jay Chou) is the brains behind the duo and is able to build useful crime fighting tools, not the least of which includes installing as many deadly weapons as their car, The Black Beauty, can hold.

The villain is played by recent Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz, whose brilliance in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds is toned down here in favor of witty one-liners and goofy mannerisms that stem mostly from the character’s inferiority complex—his desire to be scarier than others. Even when he isn’t on top of his game, however, Waltz charms. Without exception, he is the best thing about The Green Hornet, despite a serious lack of screen time in the first hour.

There’s also little problem with the rest of the cast. Chou may not fully have a grip on the English language, but it isn’t readily noticeable. His comedic timing is surprisingly accurate and he doesn’t stumble through his lines like, say, Jackie Chan. Cameron Diaz, who plays Reid’s newly hired secretary and criminology expert, is good too, though it’s apparent her blonde bombshell days are coming to an end at nearly 40 years old. Seth Rogen is where The Green Hornet falters. Although he has the party boy/funny man side of his character down pat, he isn’t entirely convincing as a superhero. To be fair, his character isn’t given much to do, but that’s what makes him so uninteresting. He’s savvy in neither brains nor brawn, so most of his time spent in battle is behind cover or kicking people while they’re down.

Kato is undoubtedly the star of the show, showcasing skills that Reid simply doesn’t have, but his abilities go beyond what any normal person can do, which include apparent robotic vision and super human speed. It all comes off as a tad ridiculous, but I suspect that was the point. In a cinematic world where superhero movies are becoming increasingly darker, The Green Hornet plays lighthearted and fun. It’s a nice change of pace, but this approach proves to lack the depth of films like The Dark Knight or Watchmen.

The Green Hornet is one of director Michel Gondry’s most straightforward efforts, but this type of content seems beneath him. Rather than play with ideas like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Be Kind Rewind, he is forced to go through the same old song and dance we’ve seen countless times. While certainly no slouch staging action scenes, a skill he isn’t too familiar with, they are still never fully engaging. The ending offers up the most excitement, but by that point, the film had already worn out its welcome. There is an impressive resume behind this thing, but it means very little in what amounts to nothing more than mediocrity. The Green Hornet may only be a minor waste of time, but it’s a complete waste of talent.

The Green Hornet receives 2.5/5

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