Almost immediately this band of kung-fu warriors is called into battle to protect some innocent villagers from Lord Shen’s rampaging hordes who are searching for metal to enable them make their ultimate weapon, leading to the first of the film’s many action sequences.
Lord Shen, no slouch in the kung-fu stakes himself, has come up with the ultimate weapon that will enable him to take over the whole of China, which he considers to be the rightful position denied to him when his parents sent him away in disgrace after he annihilated the pandas all those years previously. He has spent that time plotting and building up his armoury safe in the knowledge that by killing the pandas he has already defeated his doom predicted in the words of the prophecy only for a lone survivor of his men’s attack on the village to return to him with news that there is a panda alive.
From there Po and the Furious Five look to rid the land of Lord Shen and his menace but all seems bleak when one of the great masters of kung-fu is defeated and his allies imprisoned raising the prospect that China will fall to Lord Shen and that he will also bring an end to the power of kung-fu itself with the unstoppable might of his ultimate weapon.
All of the main characters who survived the previous movie are there with the Furious Five of Tigress (Angeline Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan) Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Viper (Lucy Liu) with Po’s old master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) making some brief appearances throughout the film.
Added to those are the new, and in one case terminally brief, characters of Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Master Oxen (Dennis Haysbert) and Master Thundering Rhino (Victor Garber) as fellow allies of “good” kung-fu with the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) providing constant reminders to Lord Shen of his ultimate demise.
All of those performances are perfectly good but what everybody really goes to a Kung Fu Panda movie to see is Jack Black’s Po and he doesn’t disappoint with well-delivered one-liners, assorted food gags, witty ripostes and awesome kung-fu moves throughout the film. Of all the film’s characters his somehow seems to be the closest to the actor and his exuberance is perfectly suited to the overweight and out-of-breath ball of black and white awesomeness that he gives voice to.
Shifu’s brief appearances are to point Po in the direction of “inner peace” and he’s additionally pushed down that road by the unsurprising admission by his father (James Hong) that Po is adopted. Additionally he has flashbacks when fighting Lord Shen which help him reach into the deep recesses of his memory and recall the actions of Lord Shen on the day the pandas were exterminated, the day he last saw his parents. It is finding this inner peace that eventually enables Po to stand up to Lord Shen and his fleet in the final magnificent battle that cements Po’s legendary reputation in the annals of kung-fu.
One reason I think that Shifu’s appearances are brief is that the sometimes ponderous introspection and soul-searching of the first film has been replaced with an abundance of fight sequences and chases. To my mind these make it a more enjoyable film as they really don’t feel repetitive or clichéd and the plot throws up a fair few twists along the way and does not pander to the audience or seem overly-predictable. If I had to reference to another film there’s a touch of Harry Potter versus Voldemort in the antagonism between the orphaned Po and tortured megalomania of Lord Shen but really it’s Po himself and the abundance of superb action scenes that make the film so enjoyable.