Kung Fu Panda 2
It’s been about 17 hours and I’m still not sure how I feel about this film.
I watched the original on disc a couple of days ago because other than remembering vague bits here and there I had no real recollection about it, which is strange. There were scenes, which I swear on Spielberg’s beard - I had never seen before, which probably means I may have drifted off .
However, my second viewing was a far better experience - for one I stayed awake and for another - I enjoyed the hell out of it. Yes, it’s a predictable story line about a fat panda becoming a kung fu master ( Now THERE’s a sentence you don’t get to write every day). It’s a comedic take on the classical hero’s journey. The whole "zero to hero" thing played out as a potent (and funny) message about overcoming obstacles to achieve your dreams.
So, it’s sequel time and the stellar voice cast which includes Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, James Hong and Lucy Liu has returned to their roles.
We saw the 3D version of this thanks to a mix up. We were told that 3D was sold out and only 2D was available, so in we went, to a deserted screening room - eventually joined by one other family - and settled down as the film started. I was getting a little bit annoyed (to the stage of considering going to look for a member of staff) that the picture seemed blurry - I mean, really... How hard is it to adjust the focus?? It was Tiff who pointed out that may have put the wrong version on. We all had our 3D glasses with us...and bazinga!!!
So thank you CineWorld for putting on a virtually private showing of the 3D version on for us at 2D prices.. and thank you also for the sight of the obnoxious other family who had problems keeping still, having to walk out muttering that they needed to buy glasses.
The film looks great, in fact I’m pretty much set on the opinion that 3D, be it fad or not, serves animation better than any other genre. When the first film looked as great as it did, with beautifully rendered waterfalls, pink blossom trees and mountainous landscapes - then 3D is definitely the way to go with the sequel. The fight scenes, cartoony and in a way, trippy as they are, literally come jumping fully to life in your face.
My unresolved issue with the film is the story line. Whereas the first film had a simplistic and even predictable story line hitting all the right notes for a perfect family film - this time, the story is a little bit more mature, covering themes of revenge, while Po, the panda is on a personal journey of his own, trying to figure out who he is and where he came from. There are some excellent sight gags, particularly involving the quest for inner peace and some cannons - but impressive as it is, some of the warm naiveté of the original is missing.
The ending leaves a wide opening for a third film, prompting both Steve and I to wonder whether Kung Fu Panda is DreamWorks’ new franchise - the new Shrek. If this is the case, I can only hope that Po doesn’t outstay his welcome like Shrek did.
Speaking of Shrek - I saw the trailer for the new Puss In Boots movie and groaned. Enough already. Stop milking it.
So, out of Kung Fu Panda and straight in to the first opening day screening of..
Sometimes, ignorance really is a blissful state - so it was on Friday June 17 when I had avoided each and every single review of this film. Usually, this is standard practice for me on a film I’m enthusiastic about because I’m avoiding spoilers. Also, I tend not to trust reviewers opinions. In fact, just about the only reviewer I read with any regularity is Harry Knowles over at Ain’t It Cool News. Though we disagree on quite a few things, Harry is essentially watching movies with the same wide eyed geeky sense of wonder that I have and will shamelessly champion films that the more erudite among the chin stroking snobs of the reviewing community sneer at. It’s standard practice for me to check out Harry’s review of a film as soon as I’ve seen the film. (Harry isn't always too careful about spoilers, though his heart’s in the right place)
To get back to the point, what I hadn’t realised was that there was a lot of open hostility toward Green Lantern in both the press and online. In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t aware of that and went in to the screening still looking forward to the treat of seeing GL on the big screen, untainted by doubts or negativity.
It seems that the crux of the problem is two fold - the press reviewers just don’t "get it". They’re used to super hero films of household name characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk & Superman etc. Green Lantern is one of the second tier characters and rather than be earthbound is a more science fictional hero frequently travelling in space. Bad enough for the King’s Speech/ Slumdog Millionaire championing intellectuals to swallow a "space movie" or yet another "comicbook movie" - when both those elements are combined, they’re never going to get it.
Then there are the geek sites like Ain’t It Cool - most of Harry’s reviewers are unimpressed, but the geek reviewers are ALWAYS going to be impossible to please. There are elements they’ve picked up fondly from the comics and graphic novels that may not have made the final cut, a portrayal of a character or a fictional location may not be exactly they way they’ve envisioned it and those are quick strikes against the movie.
But though his lieutenants may have given the Lantern a frosty reception, I was pleased to see that Harry himself flew his geek flag high and proud as did I.
I’ve been familiar with the character of Green Lantern since I was about eight or nine years old, buying American comics in stores that stocked them during the summer months. One year it’d be Marvel titles that were available, the next - DC. At that time, I wasn’t an avid reader of green Lantern, but I knew who he was, the powers he has and what he did because I used to enjoy the Justice League of America title which brought all of DC’s line-up into one magnificent team. (Individual characters I read at that time were Batman, Superman and Spider-Man with a bit of Fantastic Four thrown in for good measure).
In time, Green Lantern did a surprising heel turn and became the biggest villain in the DC Universe, wiping out vast swathes of decades old continuity and several characters in his path as the publishing company "cleaned house".
All of a sudden, the do-gooder wearing a ring powered by a green lantern shaped battery became more interesting. I found out an essential facet of his story that I was oblivious to for a couple of decades - that there was an entire Green Lantern Corps, kind of intergalactic cops.
I’ve been filling in the gaps by buying the collected "Showcase" series of trade paperbacks reprinting the sixties and seventies run and enjoying the hell out of them. I’ve been reading the recent Blackest Night/Brightest Day story line as they’ve been released in hardback form so I was pretty much up to speed and looking forward as I wandered into the showing, proudly wearing the Lantern logo t-shirt I’d bought in Forbidden Planet in New York last year (though I stress I wasn’t wearing the replica ring I’d been given by a shop assistant in Forbidden Planet Cardiff last year despite having threatened to do so. I...er....forgot it)
So, what we have here is an origin story. It’s how test pilot Hal Jordan is selected to become the Earth sector’s Green Lantern by the ring of his dying predecessor an alien named Abin Sur who has crashed to Earth. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan - instantly becoming, basically, a likeable, irresponsible asshole who has to step up to the mark, quit being a selfish, carefree jerk and join the elite Corps.
I’ll go on record as saying that this is as close to the source material as any super hero comic book inspired film I’ve ever seen. It’s more entertaining that Thor and X-Men: First Class, but that’s not to denigrate those two films, it’s just that this is lighter, faster, slicker and more faithful to the conventions set down in the source material.
Novices, unfamiliar with the back story have everything explained to them, how there’s a central battery on the Corps home base of Oa, how the Corps are ruled by the Guardians, a race of blue skinned immortal midgets. Actually, one of the ONLY issues I have with the film is that the Guardians sit on ridiculously high stone plinths that doesn’t convey their small stature. It’s not really a problem, I’m just saying.
What IS a problem though is that the Guardians themselves are jarringly, obviously, CGI to a point that it’s a bit distracting. Remember in the Star Wars prequels when Yoda stopped being a puppet and was rendered in CGI and you looked at him and although he looked the same, there was a skin quality there that wasn’t "right"? It’s that again.
It’s also explained how green is the colour of willpower. A Green Lantern possesses the willpower to will his ring’s power. Let me try and put this into words. He has a ring, that ring is charged by a battery shaped like a lantern. When powered, the ring allows its wearer to fly and to make real anything they can imagine. Example, in the comics, GL used his ring’s power to make a giant hand to catch someone who’d fallen from a skyscraper, or a large fist to knock out three or four villains at once. (He actually does the latter in the movie, I almost stood up and cheered). Some of the constructs he makes with the ring are as wildly crazy in the film as they were in the comics. I never thought I’d see the day when those wildly fanciful giant green hands, springs etc that emanate from the ring would be realised on the big screen. A giant green Hot Wheels track in one instance - I loved it.
What’s not explained in the film is that the green power of the ring has one flaw - it has no effect on anything coloured yellow. (There’s a classic moment in a Batman story where the Bat kicks the crap out of the Lantern by painting himself yellow.)
Yellow is the colour of fear - and this plays into the sequel more than this origin. To find out what I mean, stay in the theatre while the end credits runs - there’s something pivotal there.
Other than the look of the Guardians, there’s nothing here to complain about. The Sinestro character ( a fellow Corps member) is right on the mark, as an aloof, purple skinned snob. In an in-joke as he tutors Jordan in ring constructs he actually creates a Captain America shield.
Huge physical arts master Kilowog, voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan similarly is exactly as he should be as he roughs up Jordan during the combat training.
For the sequel, well there’s that element from the credits, and I’d like to see Jordan’s girlfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) become the Star Sapphire villain... If only for the costume...wowzer.