REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda 2

5 06 2011

Is it so wrong that I love “Kung Fu Panda 2” in spite of all of its unoriginality and lack of creativity?  Is it so terrible that I’m totally won over by an overweight panda who can do kung fu as well as he can eat?  Is it so strange that a village of adorable pigs and bunnies makes me feel like I’m five years old again?

While the sequel is hardly as entertaining and funny as the original “Kung Fu Panda,” Po and the rest of the Furious Five are still a joy to watch.  The movie still possesses that charm that made me watch the first installment countless times on HBO while eating dinner, and it proves once again to be infectious as it melts down whatever barriers are hardening your heart.  It’s also a movie that’s easy on the eyes with appealing action and fun graphics, evincing the slow closing of the gap between Pixar and everyone else with a computer.

This “Kung Fu Panda” is all about daddy issues as the movie’s two storylines both deal with characters coming to grips with decisions made by their parents.  The evil peacock Shen (voiced by the always creepy Gary Oldman) orders a genocide of pandas to prevent the fulfilling of a prophecy that one would defeat him, thus leaving his parents with no choice but to exile him.  When Shen returns to power, the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black) starts to question where he really came from.  His goose father, Mr. Ping, has few answers, so Po is largely on his own.  However, his kung fu companions, known as the Furious Five (and featuring the voices of Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, and David Cross) have big issues that they have to deal with, namely Shen’s reappearance which threatens to dismantle the art of kung fu.  But as their journey progresses, Po finds that the questions about his parents may relate to Shen’s avarice and malice in shocking ways.

That summary probably makes the plot sound more glorious and intricate than it actually unfolds in the movie.  On the other hand, sometimes glory isn’t found in the story (despite the majority of my reviews saying just the opposite).  Sometimes it’s just the rush of joy that can be found in juvenility that makes something fun.  Sometimes we can have a perfectly gratifying experience just looking at a cute and cuddly panda cub playing in a bucket of radishes.  Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of what it’s like to be a kid watching a movie again.  B+ / 

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REVIEW: The Karate Kid

26 06 2010

Oh, the lessons a jacket can teach us.

The Karate Kid” is a remake of questionable necessity – after all, the original is barely a quarter of a century old. Don’t worry, Pat Morita won’t be rolling over in his grave when he gets wind of the update. It’s not awful, and no harm or foul is done; except maybe to kung fu, which is the actual martial art taught in the movie but doesn’t get the honor of being mentioned in the title.

The movie is Jaden Smith’s vehicle, who really needs it because he didn’t get enough exposure in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” I’m not expecting some fantastic performance from someone who obviously only got the job because his dad is Will Smith. And it’s wrong to expect him to give us all the charisma and swagger that his old man has spent decades developing. As Dre, Jaden Smith brings to the table two assets that will serve him well if he chooses to keep acting: confidence and presence, which is pretty good for 11.

Dre is making the strange and unexplained move from Detroit to China with little sympathy from his mother (Taraji P. Henson). After catching the eye of a dedicated young violinist, he is unexpectedly launched into a mismatched rivalry with a savage band of ruffians. It doesn’t help matters that these kids have been taught a brand of “no mercy” kung fu (not karate!) by a brutal master. The first half of the movie plays out like an anti-bullying PSA as Dre attempts to avoid his tormentors. All the while, we can’t help but think, “Hey! If only you knew his dad was Will Smith, then I’d like to see you try to beat up this kid!”

And then, as if by some misplaced stage direction, enter Mr. Han, the hermit-like maintenance man of Dre’s building who helps turn the tide in his fight against the bullies by pulling out some unexpected moves. While offering that assistance, he also manages to get a then untrained Dre into a kung-fu tournament against the same people that would love nothing more than to give him a black eye and a bruised rib.

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