Summer means movie sequels, and for those of you who are counting, there are 27 sequels coming out this year. That’s a record.
Stories in sequels are usually watered-down versions of the original; the desire to strike a massive profit again overrides story concerns. The narrative spark gets lost, and a mediocre movie results.
I am happy to report that “Kung Fu Panda 2” is an exception to this rule.
The first movie dealt with the struggle to accept a messiah that did not fit the bill. Po (Jack Black) was stumbling, bumbling, undisciplined, yet he was the one spoken of in prophecy.
Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) didn’t want to accept that Po was to be the Dragon Warrior, yet that acceptance allowed Po to fulfill his role as a deliverer.
In this incarnation, Po has nightmares and visions of his past. He wonders where he came from.
Po, being a panda, is aware that Mr. Ping the goose (James Hong) cannot be his birth father. That awareness creates doubt in Po, which puts him at risk as the Dragon Warrior.
Meanwhile, Shen the peacock (Gary Oldman) threatens all of China with the technological advance of the cannon. No longer does Kung Fu rule the land or serve as protector; Shen wants to use his technology to gain control.
Po and the Furious Five are sent to confront Shen and bring order back to the nation. As Po journeys to confront Shen, the issues of his origin begin to affect his abilities. When the first confrontation with Shen comes, Po is paralyzed with doubt.
This nascent “Panda” series deals with spirituality in a subtle way. First there is the issue of knowing who you are.
Po is told he must have inner peace before he can truly become who he is meant to be. The struggle of identity he goes through speaks to the struggle that many face in life.
But the larger issue that the movie speaks to is technology’s power. Shen believes that he can prevail because of his technological advantage. The power of his cannon is so great that two kung fu masters, Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Ox (Dennis Haysbert), quickly submit to Shen and go to jail.
What happens is a confrontation between technology and spirituality. The issue is: Can technology be the guiding force in life? Is there a place for the spirit in a world ruled by the power of technological advance? Where and when does the spirit come into a life filled with all that modernity has to offer?
“Kung Fu Panda 2” continues asking questions about what it means to live the spiritual life. Answers are subtly, not boldly, suggested. Seek and you will find.
I really like this series, and I look forward to the next installment.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Writers: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Cast: Jack Black: Po; Dustin Hoffman: Shifu; Gary Oldman: Shen; Angelina Jolie: Tigress; Lucy Liu: Viper; Jackie Chan: Monkey; David Cross: Crane; Seth Rogen: Mantis; Jean-Claude Van Damme: Croc; Dennis Haysbert: Ox; James Hong: Mr. Ping.
The movie’s website is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.