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Kung Fu Panda 2

by on May 25, 2011
 

I think I may have actually nodded off during “Kung Fu Panda 2.” This is surprising for two reasons — because I have never fallen asleep in a movie theater before and because it happened not during the talky scenes but in the middle of the martial-arts action.

It may amount to no more than 10 seconds I missed, but I still feel compelled to report it. I’ve sat near famous critics who snored halfway through a screening, and it troubled me when that didn’t show up in their review. It may be largely subjective, but movie criticism is still journalism, so it’s our duty to report the whole of our experience of a film.

To wit: “Panda 2″ literally put me to sleep — albeit very briefly.

I’m not an ingrained panda-hater; I very much enjoyed the first film from 2008. The mix of excellently detailed CG animation and goofy kid-friendly humor made for a jolly good time that appealed to adults as well as tykes.

But the sequel is just going through the motions. The comedy is again built around the slacker sweetness of Po, an animated version of Jack Black as a tubby panda. It worked last time around because he was a nobody poser who dreamed of fighting alongside the Ferocious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross).

But as we learned at the end of the last film, Po completed his unlikely journey to become the Dragon Warrior, the culmination of kung fu mastery. His pratfalls and clumsy antics don’t jibe now that he’s the baddest bear in the land.

Although I must say that for the beast who’s supposed to be the best of the best, both Tigress and their teacher, Shifu, still seem to have his number.

Speaking of Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman, he’s kind of kicked to the curb in the sequel, showing up for a few scenes near the beginning and end. He speaks cryptically about a new threat that could “destroy kung fu,” which is like saying you’re going to destroy gardening. Even if you kill all the best gardeners, there’s still going to be plenty of people around who know a thing or two. Same with chop-socky.

The new villain is Lord Shen, a peacock who dreams of conquering all of China. He’s well on his way to doing it, too, thanks to a new invention: the cannon. (For a brief time, the movie had a subtitle, “The Kaboom of Doom,” that seems to have evaporated.)

Gary Oldman does a good job making Shen a somewhat sympathetic figure with some parental abandonment issues. He’s also a lot more menacing than you might imagine a brightly hued peacock could be — for those cascading feathers hide a small arsenal of knives.

Screenwriters/producers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who also wrote the original film, make the unwise choice of giving Po some backstory to explore. Po has a goose for a father, and one thing I liked about the first movie was that no one seemed to question this ornithological oddity.

But now Po is sent to chase after the memory of his missing parents, and it gives the sequel a downbeat vibe that sucks the life out of the lighter material.

Rookie director Jennifer Yuh’s fight scenes don’t have the crisp clarity of the last movie — the action is either flying by too fast or they dial up the slo-mo so far it’s like we’re stuck in molasses.

But mostly “Kung Fu Panda 2″ just lacks the novelty of the original, which found a sweet spot in between martial arts and goofy animated critters and milked it for every last laugh. This one feels like leftovers that have curdled.

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