I went into this expecting a fun little action film with some goofy moments and great action. My expectations were greatly surpassed, Kung Fu Panda 2 continues the increase of quality films that Dreamworks Animation has been making since Monsters vs Aliens. This is one of Dreamworks' stronger films and I suggest that you all see it as soon as possible.
The story of Kung Fu Panda 2 takes a much darker tone than the first with scenes of true destruction and death not seen in the first and a really threatening villain in the form of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). The backstory of Shen feels very believable and establishes a much more personal hero/villain relationship than the first one. It also doesn't help that the 2D animation telling Shen's backstory is gorgeous and really highlights just how good 2D animation still is. The story is also provides more character development to Po and the backstory of his family is given a good amount of screen-time, this gives the story a much more personal feel to Po which is something the first film really lacked, spending more time on the development of Master Shifu and Tai Lung.
Speaking of Shifu, he doesn't have much to do for most of the film besides setting up a crucial plot point, although Dustin Hoffman still gets some really funny lines in his scenes as Shifu. There is a revelation about what Shifu will do later in the film but I will not spoil what he does. The Furious 5 has a larger role in the overall plot in the film although it is still only Tigress that gets the character development. I want to see more time devoted to Monkey or Mantis rather than all the character development going to Tigress. Going along with this, Jackie Chan has about 2 lines of dialogue as Monkey while Angelina Jolie gets all the lines. James Hong also gets a lot more development as Mr Ping with some really emotional scenes for the character at the start of the film, bringing into light the nature of Ping's relationship with Po and really making you feel the pain Ping goes through with seeing Po going of into dangerous situations, never knowing if Po will return and the voice of Hong really brings the sorrow through. In terms of new hero characters Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Haysbert do a good job as Masters Croc and Storming Ox respectively yet Van Damme doesn't get as many lines as Master Croc. The best of the new heroes by far is Michelle Yeoh as the Soothsayer mixing in a wise nature with her dialogue and her voice with the general attitude of a goat by the actions of the characters.
Gary Oldman does a brilliant job as the villain of the film, Lord Shen providing the character with a voice that is both comforting and menacing at the same time and really lets you know how he convinced the wolves to join up with him to build the weapons and do other nasty business (which I will not reveal). This other nasty business provides a great hero/villain relationship and it really helps that the script allows the characters of Po and Lord Shen to play off of each other with Jack Black and Gary Oldman living up to the great dialogue.
The design and animation of the film is gorgeous with very bright and vibrant imagery to show off Gongmen City making it feel like an appropriate ideal city, before Shen arrives. The animation of Shen's lair is also fantastic being appropriately dark and foreboding with the red and black giving a very clear colour scheme to show the evil of Shen. This design for the villain shows the appropriate influence Guillermo Del Toro had on the film as a creative consultant with the whole design of the lair and of the nature of the weaponry reminding me of the design used in the Hellboy films and in fact the overall tone of the film reminds me of the Hellboy films, especially in the terms of Po finding out about who he really is reminding me of the inner conflict Prince Nuada placed Hellboy in in Hellboy 2. As stated earlier, the 2D animation is gorgeous and really fits with the Chinese art-style that the filmmakers wanted to go with. This also comes through with the music which is also incredible and really fits with the culture of China and provides some brilliant resonance with the emotional imagery on display.
The action is incredible and provides for some really badass scenes for Po in particular, the final action scene with Po standing out as one of the best action scenes I think I will see all year. The animation also provides for some breathtaking scenes of action that wouldn't fit well into live action with a scene involving the temple of Gongmen City being a standout.
In conclusion, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a really good film and one of Dreamworks Animations stronger efforts with characters that don't get enough screentime, development, dialogue or motivation (mainly Master Croc and Master Thundering Ox) preventing this film from being perfect.
My Rating: 4/5