This weekend is a major showdown at the box office between two highly anticipated sequels (at least for me who appreciates both drunken adult comedies and the adventures of fat, animated panda bears. Both Kung Fu Panda and The Hangover were surprise smash hits, each earning over $200 million domestically, which means both have incredible potential to fail miserably in their second efforts. So here’s the breakdown from what I saw.
Kung Fu Panda 2
I first must disclose that I am a huge fan of Jack Black (I even looked favorably on Gulliver’s Travels) so that needs to be taken into account with any assessment I offer of a Jack Black film. I loved the first Kung Fu Panda, but because KFP is not a Pixar film, but rather a Dreamworks film, I was wary of their ability to maintain the first film’s level of quality (after all they took Shrek from a classic first installment into a piece of total sh*t by the third film, thus ensuring that I would never see the 4th and final Shrek).
I got to the theater Thursday night and it was only about 40% full, almost entirely made up of Asians, with more Asians following me in. I did not realize Kung Fu Panda was such a niche film, but I felt like I was sitting at the Asian table in a high school cafeteria.
The movie was solid, but unlike the first film this one was a majority action-oriented. The first film was so good because, although it had a few well done action sequences, the bulk of the film was the joy of seeing Jack Black’s wit and energy translated into a giant animated panda. The second film sort of reverses the ratio as Po, the main character, searches for answers to his birth origins, while trying to stop an evil peacock from taking over China (you aren’t sold yet?). In animation, because anything is possible as long as you can draw/design it, it is less impressive to me to make an action packed animated movie, than to make a truly witty and intelligent animated movie.
The movie is still solid, but it is not nearly the same level as the first, despite having Jean Claude Van Damme voice one of the characters. And given the lessons of the film, if you are a Dad with young kids, it will make a decent early father’s day trip, especially if they are not biologically yours.
The Hangover Part 2
This movie had me laughing steadily throughout, but with about 20 minutes to go it dawned on me that the reviews I had read were spot on – the movie is identical to the first one. So much so, that it feels as if the screenwriters just cut and pasted the original screenplay and then changed names, locations and drugs. It is a slightly more outrageous film than the first and on its own very funny. However, it feels slightly cheap when you realize how easy the movie must have been to write (Thailand and missing brother in law replace Vegas and missing groom as the only two substantive differences). But judging by the previews for all the frat bro films coming out this Summer, it appears that The Hangover is spurring on other filmmakers to create their own original take on Hangover-style comedies, even if The Hangover people are being lazy about it.