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45 out of 67 people found the following review useful:
The Power of Awesomeness, 24 May 2011

In a summer packed with superheroes, pirates, and aliens, I wouldn't have guessed that my favorite movie so far would involve animals doing martial arts. Kung Fu Panda 2 was extremely impressive.

The Po (Jack Black) of the first Kung Fu Panda is still the same goofy panda with a strong spirit and unique karate moves, but in this movie he faces unanswered questions about his past. While the first movie was more of an origin story, the sequel shows his quest to find out where he came from, a gap that he needs to fill in order to become at peace with himself. If you wondered how a panda could be the son of a goose, your questions will be answered, and Po's backstory is much more emotionally developed than you might think.

Po also has to confront the villainous Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an albino peacock. Tai Lung (Ian McShane) in the first movie relied more on brute force, but Shen is much crazier and unpredictable. In typical supervillain fashion, he plans to take over China and destroy Kung Fu forever (yes, Kung Fu is treated pretty lightly in these movies, but there's enough philosophy involved, and it is a kid's movie). Though Tai Lung held a personal grudge against Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) in the first movie, Shen is a more fitting antagonist for Po because of a strong connection to Po's past.

And of course the colorful supporting cast is back too. The Furious Five are all well-designed characters, and although they don't have much speaking time, they all have their moments to shine (especially Angelina Jolie as Tigress and Seth Rogen as Mantis). Though Jackie Chan barely had any lines. The new characters all help to expand the world of the movie.

Though the first movie had a lot of juvenile humor, Kung Fu Panda 2 had a lot less fat jokes and a lot more slapstick. Despite the marketing, Po only says "Skadoosh" once, and it's actually pretty cool. The movie is darker overall, but that only serves to increase the epic tone. Shen is played by Gary Oldman, and though I didn't realize that until the credits, it makes a lot of sense. The villainous peacock is very similar to other self-obsessed, off-the- hinge villains Oldman has played in movies like León and True Romance. But however dark the movie gets, it's always a lot of fun. Jack Black isn't as annoying as he can be sometimes because Po just seems like the kind of character he's meant to play.

The animation in Kung Fu Panda 2 is extremely well done. It's incredibly cool to see the group fight as a team, and the character animation is expressive in both emotional and action scenes. The cinematography embraces a wide variety of techniques, from slow motion to first person chase scenes, and several sequences use 2D animation to great effect. The set pieces are action-packed, and entertaining. After one scene, I thought the movie was going to end soon just because of how big it was, but the real finale topped even that. And the landscapes and backgrounds are beautiful to look at, artfully designed but still realistic.

I saw this movie in 3D, and for the first time, I definitely recommend it. I haven't had many good experiences with live action 3D, but animation is much better suited for it. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a thrill ride, and the 3D was crisp and well done.

I have to give props to Hans Zimmer. After Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was a bit of a letdown, the soundtrack to Kung Fu Panda 2 is quite awesome, adding to the already epic tone.

I honestly can't think of much that I can criticize about this movie. Po's "this is awesome" comments get a bit repetitive, and some scenes with Shen are a bit long. There's a plot point where the group and Po have an argument that kind of doesn't make sense. Otherwise, this movie was really entertaining, both as an action movie and a (admittedly aimed towards kids) comedy, with a strong heart in the center.

If Cars 2 doesn't completely blow everyone away, Kung Fu Panda 2 definitely has a rightful chance at winning Best Animated Feature (which my brother jokingly called "The Pixar Award") this year. It's interesting to see animation take on different genres, and if you took out all the animals, this movie could definitely stand on its own as a kung fu epic. Dreamworks really stepped up its game, and I would gladly pay to see Kung Fu Panda 2 (maybe even in 3D).

Unknown (2011/I)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Liam Neeson as an Amnesiac James Bond, 9 May 2011

Unknown was a really solid action thriller. It seems like Liam Neeson has done a lot of these types of movies lately, but I enjoyed this much more than Taken (which was a bit clichéd). Unknown is much more than the story of a man who lost his memory and seems to have been replaced by someone taking his identity. In fact, the sheer amount of plot twists and complexities keep building up, but you never feel too lost (the exposition bordered on making things way too obvious, but always hid something from you). I feel like this movie could have been a James Bond movie, and there's a similar amount of slightly unbelievable moments (Liam Neeson should've been James Bond, he would have been much, much better and funnier than Daniel Craig). The action scenes are clear and well done, and there's tons of suspense and gasp-inducing moments that keep the film's momentum going.

Part of what made this movie different from your usual thriller was the excellent cinematography. Unknown takes place in Berlin, and the gloomy, snow-filled streets and mix of modern and traditional architecture is a really cool environment. There's a bit of CGI that looked somewhat cheap, but for the most part, the visual effects nicely complemented the story.

The acting was better-than-average for a thriller on most parts. Neeson did his usual bad-ass job, and really pulled off having lost his memory. Diane Kruger played a cab driver pulled into the mystery, and she did a great job portraying a sympathetic character and was a strong female lead (also, incredibly beautiful). The minor characters were all very enjoyable, especially Bruno Ganz as a former spy-turned private detective and Frank Langella as -character description removed-.

I have to say, though, the weakest link was definitely January Jones. I have decided that she's actually a pretty bad actress. Now, before all you Mad Men fans get mad at me, Betty Draper is a character that's supposed to be childlike and stiff. Well, apparently Jones isn't really acting. She was the one part of this movie that constantly annoyed me.

Overall, I definitely had fun watching Unknown and liked it a lot. Worth seeing.

Thor (2011)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Fun Superhero Movie, But Not Quite There, 8 May 2011

In many ways, my thoughts on this movie can be summed up as "Expectations vs. Reality." It certainly wasn't the best superhero movie ever, but I liked it for what it was. It seemed like the writers and Kenneth Branagh made it about ¾ of the way to having a really good movie on their hands, but there's definitely something missing.

My expectations from seeing all the trailers for Thor led me to think "It looks like it'll look good, but it'll be kind of corny." I went to see it hoping for a visual spectacle and a fun superhero movie. Just as a side note, I knew only a moderate amount about Thor in the comics before I saw the movie (and I'm more of a DC comics fan, but that'll have no bearing on this review).

Thor definitely succeeded with the whole look of the movie. Creating entirely new fantasy worlds in addition to the scenes taking place on Earth is tough, but the CGI was all really well done and convincing. I guess it's easier to make things look better if you have free reign to come up with new worlds that nobody has seen before. The production design and artwork matched the epic scale of the comics, and a surprising amount of practical effects (the frost giants, the real sets in Odin's palace) helped anchor the fantastical to the real. My only complaint is that by the end of the movie, some effects that started out looking cool seemed over-repeated (rainbow bridge cyclones, flyovers of Asgard).

But despite the achievement of creating a new variety of mythology, the film failed to provide any deep connection to the characters. The script wasn't too corny, but just kind of bland and a hodgepodge of clichés. Natalie Portman's character was so stupid. All she did was swoon over Thor, give him a ride, and say "Oh My God" and complain about SHIELD taking her research (I don't think this is her fault, the script didn't give her much to work with). Her "relationship" with Thor was totally contrived and out of nowhere. Kat Dennings' character was the stereotypical sidekick, and Stellan Skarsgard did a good job with what he had to work with. The Warriors Three and Heimdall all were supporting characters with very one-note personalities. Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki all did their best, but the father-sons relationship between them never had much emotional connection or development.

There's definitely a bit of overacting involved, and I think that is due to Kenneth Branagh. I just don't think he understands subtlety that well, and preferring to stick to more broader, Shakespearean comedy and emotional moments. I remember watching him in Hamlet and laughing at the scene where he starts hitting a rock with his sword because he's angry. Well, I felt the same way a couple times during Thor.

And of course, there was no real suspense. Thor obviously can't die, he has to go be in The Avengers! None of the other characters really felt like they were in much danger. With such a shallow script, you could argue that much of the mythology was toned down because the writers feared that the general public wouldn't be able to follow anything complicated. They tried to root the mythological arcs in emotional conflicts, but none of the emotional conflicts are strong enough for us to care.

But the filmmakers honestly did a good job paying attention to details. The cinematography was pretty interesting for a superhero movie, with plenty of dutch angles and wide, sweeping shots. The fight scenes are all pretty cool, and I liked how the different warriors all had unique fighting styles. The costume design made ridiculous outfits and helmets seem natural. I liked the way they incorporated S.H.I.E.L.D. (and a special Avengers guest star) into the plot, which was much more natural than in Iron Man 2. And even though there's definitely going to be sequels, I think the ending to this movie had a good finality that doesn't make you feel like you only saw Part 1 of a three part movie.

In the Marvel movie pantheon, I would place this above Iron Man 2, but lower than The Incredible Hulk (my favorite Marvel movie), the first two Spidermans, and maybe the first Iron Man. It's worth seeing, as it's not your typical superhero movie, but I would wait until it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray (and it's definitely not worth seeing in 3D). Thor is almost an experiment: Can audiences accept a lighter, mythological-based superhero movie? It certainly has the beginnings of greatness, but still has a lot to improve on.