Category Archives: The Inky Review

Syren: A Book Review

Here I review the fifth book in Angie Sage’s wonderful Septimus Heap series of fantasy books…

Written by: Angie Sage
Published: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 628
Rating: 4.5/5

Septimus is stranded on a remote island with his syrenbadly injured dragon, Spit Fyre, along with Jenna and Beetle. The island is captivatingly beautiful, but there is also something strange about it… not least the cat-shaped lighthouse and an eerie presence that sings to Septimus… Trouble is also brewing for Lucy and Wolf Boy, who have become entangled with some nefarious sailors.

Syren is the fifth book in the ‘Septimus Heap’ series by the wonderful Angie Sage, and it definitely does not ruin the reputation of the first four!

I key part of writing fantasy – as I’ve found from my own efforts at writing in that genre – is originality. There are hoards of drooling critics out there just waiting to tell you how similar you are to the big guys like JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin. Sure, who wouldn’t want to be compared to them? But in terms of storylines, originality is crucial. It’s your ‘Unique Selling Point’ – don’t worry, I’ll never bring business into this again – that is meant to grab your readers’ attention. If you wrote a book called The Lord of the Swings about a small guy called Hobo who finds a magical swing that –when swung on, of course – turns you invisible, then…ok, ok, that was over the top, but you see my point. If you don’t, then you’ve come to the wrong place – go read a review written by a normal person.

Angie Sage
The author of the series, Angie Sage

Anyway, Angie Sage has got that originality spark. The imaginative world she creates inside her books is completely different from any other fantasy author you’re likely to cross. It’s full to the brim with magykal creatures, ludicrous characters and deliberate spelling mystakes (ok, not that last one). I highly recommend you read the first four books (Magyk, Flyte, Physik and Queste) before reading Syren, but this review can be taken as a staple for the whole series really.

I think the main part of the fifth book that distances it from the first four is that we see more of Septimus Heap’s world. We travel across the sea to a far off land with foreign customs and strange people, and

then to the beautifully-described Isles of Syren, which is such a perfectly crafted location. These new settings really bring to life the enormity of the world the characters live in, and stop the stories from getting samey-samey. There are also several elements of this book that link back to the third and fourth books, and it resolves some mysteries left unsolved at the end of book four.

septimusheap
Syren features some beautiful drawings by Mark Zug

Another key success of this book is – as always in Sage’s books – its characters. The Septimus Heap books are a great example of how a story is based around the characters involved, rather than the characters have to run to keep up with the story. You really have to pay attention, as every single character in these books has a function. As Mark Twain once said: “The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.” Syren introduces several new, colourful characters that were not heard of in the first four, but we do see the return of an old villain (not saying which one!) and, although it can seem a bit confusing and cluttered at times, all these characters come together to form one intricately-designed plot that I think lives up to and might just surpass that of the first four books.

The good thing about having so many fantastic characters is that the readers can really relate to them, and almost care for them. In this book we see some changes occur as the characters get older and relationships are therefore also changed. This keeps the series moving and gives us a sense of having lived with these characters, rather than just seeing them on a page.

syrah
One of the principle characters in the book: Syrah Syara

I mentioned earlier that the plot may surpass that of the first four books, and this is my final point. This book doesn’t just flow, it unravels. It seems much like a mystery story at one point, especially near the end. At the beginning, it can often seem a little disorganised but, if you stick with it, everything soon comes together and it’s a great feeling to read it when it does. I literally couldn’t put the book down for the last hundred pages.

So, to conclude, this is a great book. It’s definitely worth reading if you want a bit of light-hearted fantasy with a genuinely unique story. I will definitely be sticking with it to read the final two books in the series!

If you’re new to Angie Sage, I recommend you check out her work! Find some info on the series as a whole here: http://www.septimusheap.com/

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Here is my first book review (how is it only the first?!). This is the first book I read of the New Year, and it was a brilliant if bonkers beginning…

Written by: Douglas Adams
Published: 1980
Genre: Science Fiction, Comedy
Pages: 200
Rating: 4/5

When all questions of space, time, matter and therestaurantuniverse nature of being have been resolved, only one question remains – ‘Where shall we have dinner?’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe provides the ultimate gastronomic experience, and for once there is no morning after to worry about.

I read the first book in Douglas Adams’ series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in 2013. I had no idea what to expect. After reading it I realised the books were very much like marmite: you either love them or you hate them. I also read the first of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, The Colour of Magic, last year and got much the same impression. I have to admit I much prefer Pratchett’s books to Douglas Adams, but I was still on the ‘love’ end of that marmite spectrum.

I often think it’s best to judge a book series not by how good the first book is, but by how good the second book is. I started The Restaurant at the End of the Universe on the day after New Year with something some people in white lab coats probably call “tentative expectation”. I always think that, with the Hitchhiker’s books, there is quite a thin line between the writing being exciting and witty, or a bit boring.

I didn’t enjoy The Restaurant at the End of the Universe quite as much as the first book, as I couldn’t attach myself to the storyline quite as much. It seemed to be less of an adventure and more of an intergalactic rambling club. I’m sure Douglas Adams would not hesitate to point out it is an intergalactic rambling club, but that’s beside the point. I couldn’t help but switch off once or twice.

“In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move.”

Hitchhikers as a series is meant to be mind-bogglingly loopy, and it is. Sometimes you lose track of what the main objective actually is, or you can’t get your head around a particular sentence, but that’s fine; it’s all part of the fun. This style works most of the time, but it can slip into confusion. I think one of the main faults was that the group splits up in the second book, and we focus on more of what Zaphod is up to. Arthur Dent does not play any major part in the story – he just tends to be “there” – and Trillian barely has a few lines.don't panic

However, I hate to be overly negative, because this is a great book. It’s often laugh-out-loud (or LOL as the kids call it) funny, it’s extremely inventive and I thought the ending was actually the best part of the book. I hate to use the word “sad” but it was actually quite poignant. If there’s anything this book does that you can fully understand is that it makes you realise the vastness and infinite complexity of space and the Universe that we live in. It gets you thinking about the future and the past and our place in it.

“Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

Despite there being, at some points, too many characters than necessary, we, as readers, are much closer to them at the end of this book than at the end of the first, particularly Arthur and Ford. You feel genuinely concerned and disappointed (for the characters) at the end (I won’t trouble you with spoilers!) and you seriously wonder how they’re going to get themselves out of this mess. But, as these are the bonkers books that they are, there will always be a way out. And I’m sure it’s going to be extraordinary.

Just remember to take a towel with you.

The Impossible

Today I review a 2012 film set during and after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Based on a true story, it’s sure to tear at your heartstrings…

Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Runtime: 113 minutes
Age Certificate: 12
Release: October 11th, 2012

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:
Boxing Day, 2004. A day that shall forever be remembered as the day the unexpected happened: the 3rd largest earthquake ever recorded triggers the largest tsunami on record. 10-metre waves hit south-east Asia with incredible force and affected millions of families across the world.

The Impossible is the remarkable true story of one family in a million. The ordinary, middle-class Bennet family are on holiday over Christmas, staying in a resort in Khao Lak, Thailand. Their world is turned upside down and torn apart, and this is their impossible story of how they beat the odds; how they survive.

Ewan McGregor plays the distressed father trying to unite his family...
Ewan McGregor plays the distressed father trying to unite his family…

Any story is always better when it is a true one. The Impossible undoubtedly proves that rule. Any realistic disaster movie is made so compelling for the audience if they can relate to it, and if the story is based on truth then that goal is even more successfully reached. In a way, The Impossible is the story of every family caught up in the Boxing Day Tsunami; or, more broadly still, the story of what the experience would have been like for every family when placed in that situation. The difference is, of course, that this is one lucky family.

The story is a straight-forward one, and is not what makes the film excel. However, it doesn’t need a great ‘plot’ to be interesting- it’s interesting in the fact that it fits in that golden category: it is true. The magic is behind what is done with that story.

The film really brings home the horrors in being caught up in a tsunami
The film really brings home the horrors in being caught up in a tsunami

The acting in this film is brilliant. There are five principle characters: Maria Bennet (Naomi Watts), her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oakley Pendergast). Watts and McGregor give realistic and often frightening realisations of their characters- two scared, separated parents with a single goal of uniting their family. Tom Holland, who plays Lucas, the eldest son, also gives an astounding performance as a brave young boy burdened with a heart-breaking task.

The other big selling point of this film is the effects. Any film re-enacting a 35ft tsunami is likely to be CGI-heavy, and this film pulls it off spectacularly. There is no sign of the approaching threat for the first 15 minutes of the film, so naturally you are on edge, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Yet, despite this, the speed and ferocity of it shocks and scares you still. It is brutal. This realism factor really adds a lot; it turned a good film into a great one. The rest of the underwater sequences are also brilliantly realised, giving the audience a fully immersive experience. It’s easy to forget that it isn’t just the sheer power of the water you are up against, it’s the debris as well. Short but graphic underwater scenes really drive home how lucky these people were to escape with their lives, let alone each other.

A lot of the film centres around the relationship between Maria Bennet and her eldest son, Lucas.
A lot of the film centres around the relationship between Maria Bennet and her eldest son, Lucas.

As in all great films, the situation exhibited in the story often has a much greater meaning, a much more general one. Despite the film being frightening, heart-breaking and often tear-jerking, it is ultimately uplifting and almost poetic. It’s a story of human resilience and our instincts of survival. It’s a story of courage, bravery and endurance. But most of all, and most importantly, it is a story that teaches us the importance of family, and the love that drives it.

So, is it worth watching The Impossible? Definitely- but it is impossible to watch without shedding a tear or two towards the end…

Trailer:

Sherlock Series 3

Series 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock recently brought us safely into the New Year. Here, I take up the near-impossible job of reviewing it…

 

Written by: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Thompson
Directed by: Jeremy Lovering, Colm McCarthy, Nick Hurran
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves
Runtime: 3x 90 minutes
Rating: 5/5

umbrella fall
Not quite Mary Poppins yet…

Well, well. The prolific and seemingly irrepressible lords of the BBC –that is to say, Messrs Steven Moffat and Mark Gattiss – have pulled it off again! When the two writers penned the first series of BBC One’s Sherlock back in 2010, I wonder if they knew what a success it would become in such a small amount of time? The answer to that is probably…yes. They always know. And we, as the viewers, never do. That, really, is the magic of the show.

Indeed, Sherlock has become so popular – especially since the Series 2 finale – that I suspect at least half of the fireworks going off on New Years’ Eve were in fact celebrating the start of a 24-hour countdown to the first episode of Series 3, not the arrival of 2014 itself!

Series 1 and 2 were almost agonizingly short with only 3 episodes each, and the most recent series followed suit. But what a series it was! Any reviewer – from the inexperienced such as myself to the uber-critics – will most likely tell you it is very difficult to review a show like Sherlock as:

  1. It’s very hard to find any faults.
  2. If you do end up criticising it in any shape or form you’ll have half the population screaming their heads off at you!
dead
Hang on, wasn’t he supposed to be…

So, all in all, reviewing Sherlock Series 3 is a large but easy task. In fact, it’s probably more productive to look for explanations as to why it is so infectiously brilliant instead of rooting out it’s faults.

Nevertheless, here’s a quick breakdown of each episode and what I thought of it individually:

1: The Empty Hearse
Aired on: 1st January 2014
Written by: Mark Gatiss

This was an excellent first episode, and started right from

where we left off. Sherlock is falling to his death. Watson is watching from across the street. Everything seems lost. But no – a bungee saves the day! Obvious, really, wasn’t it? A bit of Derren Brown trickery and some dramatic rock music and all is fine and dand- Ah, but no, it wasn’t was

it? That was just a “theory”. Just after watching that tricksy first few minutes I knew that Sherlock was back, and better than ever. No question about it. And I thought the best bit was that

Moffat and Gatiss had made the most of their 2-year honeymoon (sorry, I meant holiday). All the theories that have been buzzing around the Internet were taken advantage of and strung throughout the entire episode, meaning we still don’t know – maybe we won’t ever know – how he survived. And that’s ok, because it’s Sherlock­ – you’re not meant to know how he does it, you’re just meant to know why.

watson
Watson gets a tache for episode 1!

This first episode really deals with the reunion of Sherlock and Watson, and both actors are on fine form. The reaction really is priceless and it’s excellently written and executed.

There is still a case to be cracked, however, as we learn of a terrorist plot to blow up Parliament! This plot was pushed slightly aside for a lot of the episode as we focus on Sherlock’s return, so it seems like some scenes are a bit unnecessary or disjointed, and feels like there’s a lack of an overarching plot – it’s not quite as emphasised as other episodes. I, personally, was also left a little confused at the end as the plot doesn’t quite wrap up as well as episodes 2 and 3.

These points may seem picky, but as this is a show that makes a point of making every detail important, they can’t expect the fans not to pick at the small problems, however tiny they are.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

2: The Sign of Three
Aired on: 5th January 2014
Written by: Stephen Thompson, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss

This was my favourite episode of the series, and one of my all-time favourite episodes. Why? Primarily, I think, because we don’t beat about the bush. Sherlock returning – that was last week. Now, we’ve moved forward in time, and John is getting on with life: he’s getting married. The changes in John, here, force out another side of Sherlock – his more human side (see later in this review for more on that). Sherlock is tasked with his greatest challenge: to write the best man speech. And it wouldn’t be Sherlock without a murderer present, eh? This has a slight Agatha Christie slant on it. We have all these colourful characters at the wedding – it’s a crime waiting to happy, really!

This could have been a very straightforward story: Sherlock does his speech, realises the identity of the murderer and then solves the case. Problem averted. Crack out the champagne and the violin. But it’s not necessarily the story itself in this episode, it’s the way the story is told. By flicking forwards and backwards in time, and utilising Sherlock’s “mind palace” to the extremes (again, see below), this makes for brilliant viewing. It can get a little confusing at times, but everything is resolved in the end. Oh, and the end scene with Sherlock, Watson, Mary and the other one is one of the greatest scenes ever. Top quality stuff.

Rating: 5/5

John and Mary have a nice happy wedding... oh wait, they invited Sherlock.
John and Mary have a nice happy wedding… oh wait, they invited Sherlock.

3: His Last Vow
Aired on: 12th January 2014
Written by Steven Moffat

magnussen
Episode 3 introduces a new villain…

This was a great finale episode. It lacked the “specialness” of the second episode, but still merits full marks in my opinion. It introduces an excellent new villain, in the form of the deranged blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen (played by Lars Mikkelson). The plot flicks about a lot again, and there are some brilliant twists along the way. Those who are familiar with the original Holmes canon and have been following the rumours will have been expecting the “Mary revelation” (to avoid direct spoilers) but I wasn’t, and it was a great surprise that turned the story, in fact the whole series, on it’s head.

The consequences of this twist are so heart-breaking, and I think this is really where Martin Freeman outdoes himself – his acting as Watson is just superb. We flick forwards (and then backwards!) in time quite a few times and watch as Mary and John’s relationship slowly begins to heal…and then there’s another twist.

The story switches very well from the relationship between John and Mary (and therefore Sherlock) and the Magnussen storyline. By the climax, I was wondering how the story could possibly be resolved. I think the beauty of Magnussen as a villain is that he is not a criminal; he’s just a sickening businessman who thrives on people’s secrets. However disgusting this may be, you can’t arrest a man for being curious. The matter is resolved in a decisive way which makes you wonder why you didn’t think of that before (Moriarty (Series 1): I’d be surprised, Sherlock. Really I would…) and the consequences leave a nice cliffhanger for the next series…

…but then it wouldn’t be Sherlock without a false call, would it? Another brilliant twist awaits, as an old villain is back in town (we all knew really, didn’t we?) and it looks we’d better wrap up warm – there’s an east wind coming! (that was a nice metaphor, wonder where  I got that from…)

Rating: 5/5

 

5 reasons why Series 3 surpassed the first two

Series 3 may have continued the trend of a very short run of episodes, but I reckon these 3 may have outdone the first two series’ altogether! Here’s why:

  1. New characters
mary
Mary Morstan is played by Amanda Abbington – Martin Freeman’s real wife!

The central point of Sherlock has always been it’s characters and the     relationships between them. This series emphasised that more than ever. While we still have the old gang in tow, we’re introduced to several new, pivotal characters like Janine, Mary Morstan and of course Charles Augustus Magnussen (based on Charles Augustus Milverton from the books). The advantage of creating a new “headline villain” is that we get away from the expectation of Moriarty being involved in the final episode of each series (…), and Magnussen fitted the bill perfectly

2. Sherlock is actually human?

sherlock-drunk
After a few too many drinks…

 

Being a best man. Going to social occasions. Getting drunk. Getting a girlfriend (ish). Maybe even having sex. Not exactly the sort of stuff you’d attribute to ‘old Sherlock’. Series 3 really saw a change in the title character, as he reacts to the changes of the people around him. He certainly become more human in a way we never thought possible, and as a result he now has an even closer relationship with John and Mary. Some may see it as a bad change, but I think it’s great.

 3.      Plot Arcs (or lack thereof)

sherlocklives
Sherlock died? No biggy. Not as if he was a main character or anything…

This point probably sprung from the tangled mess that used to be Doctor Who, of which I am also a fan. Steven Moffat is also the executive producer of the sci-fi show, and is known for his fiendishly long and complicated plot arcs (seriously, storylines that span almost 4 years!). That got horribly ridiculous, and I’m glad to see Sherlock didn’t get caught up in that as well. It would have been very easy to continue the revelation that #SherlockLives through the entire third series but, thankfully, it only took up part of Episode 1 and was not even mentioned in the second and third episodes. Well done, Mr Moffat.

wedding2
The Sign of Three contained some excellent storytelling

4.      Even Slicker Story-telling

“Slick” has always been a word I’ve associated with Sherlock. Everything about the show is like a well-oiled machine: meticulously planned and carefully executed. In this series we took an even bigger jump up from Series 2. This is particularly evident in Episode 2 (as I mentioned above). By jumping around through time and space, we see the plot unravel through Sherlock’s eyes – we’re virtually seeing what he is thinking – and the viewers are all the more tense for it.

5.      Mind Palaces

mindpalace
Sherlock in his mind palace

This was mentioned in one of the previous series’, and became a bit of a long-running joke throughout the years. I don’t follow all the uber-fan stuff on Tumblr etc and I didn’t realise this was a serious thing, so I was pleasantly surprised when we learnt more about the concept of a “mind palace” in Series 3. We physically see Sherlock’s mind palace on numerous occasions throughout the series – sometimes parts of the plot even take place within it – and I think it’s an inventive and extremely fun way of telling the story. This was

made even more exciting when we learn Magnussen also has a mind palace. You know, I think we’ll be seeing a new Apple product being released in the years to come: iPalace – create a world within your own mind! (copyright Steven Moffat of course)!

Ok, that just about wraps it up. Thanks for reading, and please share your views in the comments below!

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I promised it, and here it is. A long film, a long review! Just quick heads-up, the ratings I give on this blog are utterly meaningless, they’re just my own personal scoring…system?

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch
Runtime: 160 minutes
Age Certificate: 12A
Release: 13th December 2013
Rating: 4.5 / 5

“If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!”

Synopsis

After successfully crossing over (and under) the Misty Mountains, Thorin and Company must seek aid from a powerful stranger before taking on the dangers of Mirkwood Forest–without their Wizard. If they reach the human settlement of Lake-town it will be time for the hobbit Bilbo Baggins to fulfill his contract with the dwarves. The party must complete the journey to Lonely Mountain and burglar Baggins must seek out the Secret Door that will give them access to the hoard of the dragon Smaug. And, where has Gandalf got off to? And what is his secret business to the south?

I went to see the second Hobbit film, the awesomely titled Desolation of Smaug, last week with great expectations. In general, I thought the first film was okay. It’s main flaw was the lack of action and long strings of laborious walking sequences (Peter Jackson does love those, eh?). However, I’d heard over the ol’ InterWebs that the second instalment would be very much gung-ho and action-based.

In short, the Desolation of Smaug was a fantastic improvement. I could literally go on about every single scene, so I’ll try and break it down into the best bits!

Plenty of action scenes in the second film!
Plenty of action scenes in the second film!

The greatest part of this film was, I thought, the way it began to pull together the threads of the first film, the majority of which was exposition. If I compared them to ropes (naturally), the first film would have been all frayed with different characters and storylines out of place and dragging around. But, by the end of the second film, the rope is much more solid and tightly knotted together. It no longer feels disjointed and you become more relaxed with the epic grandeur of it all, although the sheer amount of stuff going on can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming!

As mentioned before, the USP of this film was the action, and it didn’t disappoint. This is when the visual effects team really got to go wild. There were many action sequences, most notably the barrel-riding chase, which I’m sure will be advertised as a new Disney World ride very soon! On the one hand, the VFX gives us a sense of how much work goes into every single shot in order to create a brilliantly-realised, in-depth world, but on the other we’re given the chance to see some ridiculously over the top stunts! And the best thing is that we are not pinned down by the seriousness of The Lord of the Rings; everything here fits in perfectly with the childish vibe of the original book.

hobbit.characters
New characters galore!

A big highlight was the greater diversity of characters in this film. Gandalf and the dwarves can get a bit samey-samey after the first film so this is very welcome. Luke Evans is great as Bard. Stephen Fry plays the small but brilliant role of the Mayor of Lake Town. The elves add a pinch of pro dancing/fighting to the mix, although I didn’t think the additions of Legolas and Tauriel were that necessary. Legolas has some excuse, as he had to be there to fit in with the lore of Middle Earth, as he is Thranduil’s son (and it was an excellent opportunity for a Gimli joke!). However, Tauriel is completely unneeded, as is the ‘love triangle’ between her, Legolas and Kili- why would an elf fall for a dwarf anyway? I thought they hated each other! Oh yeah, I suppose it’s that love thing again…

hobbit.gold
My favourite scene- Bilbo meets Smaug!

One thing we didn’t see very much of though was Bilbo – sometimes so much so that you forget he’s the title character. At this rate, the trilogy might as well be called: The Hobbit, And 100 Other Characters. We need more Martin Freeman – he is excellent in this role. What we do see of Bilbo, however, is brilliant. Namely, his first meeting with Smaug – my personal favourite part of the film. The dragon is incredibly impressive  and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the sly, brooding voice of this monster.

While we’re on the subject, the interior of the Lonely Mountain is brilliantly envisioned. We don’t see much of the physical dwarven city in the book, so this extra bit is certainly welcome. All the dwarven contraptions and machinery really colour in that blank gap that was left in the book.

APphoto_Film Review The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Gandalf takes a back seat…

Despite this, there were two main ‘extra bits’ I felt added nothing to the film. One is the fact that Kili and a few other dwarves stay behind at Lake Town. This is done for good reason – to work out poetically with that love triangle – but it was a bit odd to watch only some of the dwarves make it to the mountain rather than the whole troop that left Bag End at the beginning. Secondly, the Necromancer

storyline, I thought, is getting a bit pointless. It’s interesting, but when the story flicked back to Gandalf at Dol Guldor, it felt a bit draggy.

But, overall, an excellent improvement from An Unexpected Flop! The ending, as Smaug heads towards the Lake, was a neat cliffhanger and it looks set to be a great third film – we’re on the home stretch now, folks! What can we look forward to? Battle of the Five Armies. More Smaug. The Necromancer storyline is resolved. I know, how about a fourth film entitled: A Totally Expected Return Journey?!

What did you think? Was I overly harsh, or did you think it deserved a lower score? Please comment and discuss! 

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 focusses a lot on Po's origins

Kung Fu Panda 2 focusses a lot on Po’s origins
So, here goes: my first film review. I appreciate it’s not a new film, but sometimes old films need reviews more than new films, right? Please share your views below and give criticism where needed!

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu
Runtime: 90 minutes
Age Certificate: PG
Release: May 2011
Rating: 3.5 / 5

Synopsis

In the Valley of Peace, Po Ping is revelling in his fulfilled dreams as he serves as the fabled Dragon Warrior protecting his home with his heroes now his closest friends. However, Po and company learn that the murderous Lord Shen of Gongman City is threatening the land with a fearsome new weapon that could mean the end of kung fu. They attempt to stop him, but the panda is burdened with crippling memory flashbacks linked to this villain. Now with China in the balance, Po must learn about his past and find true inner peace against all opposition.

Since the release of the original film, Kung Fu Panda, in 2008, this franchise has become somewhat of a hit and has found its way onto childrens’ lunchboxes all around the world. It’s been given it’s own TV series on Nickelodeon and, in 2011, a second film aptly named Kung Fu Panda 2.

As sequels go, this is a great film. The plot is completely separate from the first film, with a new and spectacularly devious villain (Lord Shen, voiced brilliantly by Gary Oldman), and a new storyline. This plot touches back to the first film as it answers a question that was never resolved initially: where did Po come from, why is his “Dad” a goose and, perhaps most importantly, where are all the pandas? I thought this was great as the combination of a great plot and a personal motive for the hero always makes for a great film.

Lord Shen the peacock is the new villain
Lord Shen the peacock is the new villain

There are a few new characters introduced, including the new villain Lord Shen, the mysterious Soothsayer and Po’s reluctant new allies, Master Ox and Master Croc. New characters plus a new location (Shen’s stronghold city, Gongmen) is always great in a second film (especially a kid’s film), although the sheer volume of characters that tag along behind Po can sometimes be a bit chaotic and gives some of them not a lot to do.

The backdrop of Ancient China is unique among Dreamworks animation films and is a nicely refreshing location, making every shot look like an oil painting. This is backed up by some great sweeping olde-timey-Chinese music!

The animations as always are brilliantly colourful, meaning there’s never a dull moment on the screen (there’s so much going on in the fight scenes- it’s really a tribute to the best of animation!)

The Five are back in action!
The Five are back in action!

Overall, this is a great film to watch as a family. It’s action-packed, fast-moving and genuinely funny. We’re plunged straight into a nice plot which has a proverb-like Dreamworks moral hidden beneath it of finding “inner peace” by connecting with nature. And there’s the small matter of a big revelation in the very closing seconds of the film (no spoilers here)! I think this is a great sequel that will undoubtedly carry this popular franchise forwards into a later film(s).

Kung Fu Panda 3 is scheduled to be released on December 23rd 2015, followed by a further 3 films in the franchise.