The Monkey King 2 picks up right where the first Monkey King left off, continuing the story based on the legendary Journey to the West tales. This sequel is quite a level up from the first in a lot of ways. It's calmer and all around more precise and focused in its filmmaking, which in itself makes for a better upgrade, but the special effects and overall look of the film have been ratcheted up as well. Not that the previous installment was bad, but The Monkey King 2 finally presents a version of this classic Chinese story that lives up to its original epic otherworldliness.
The film is beautifully and intricately designed. The sets are grand, even when they aren't really there. The costumes are lavish, holding great detail and weight. From monkey fur to pig nose, the makeup effects are stunning and amusing. The fight sequences are dramatically extraordinary, as they should be for deities at battle, with great choreographed wirework for literal high-flying action. The CG animation is not the absolute best, but even that doesn't deter from the film. There's so much going on anyway that nothing is ever able to pull you out of the adventure. There is always something else more beyond belief to draw your eye. Since the film was actually shot in 3D, not converted to the format afterwards, it perfectly matches the bigger than life feel of the film and is extremely successful and atmospheric.
The Monkey King is the stuff of legends, and the actors here are perfectly cast in a rich variety of characters. Xiaoshenyang is an adorably perverted piggy Zhu Bajie, Him Law makes a hefty brute in Sha Wujing and Feng Shaofeng comes honest as monk Tang Sanzang. Li Gong is absolutely flawless as the villainous White Bone Demon, a knockout that throws back to classic female villains that are as deadly as they are beautiful. She is formidable. This is what Angelina Jolie should have been in Maleficent. Likewise for her henchwomen and their entrance into the film is a dazzling moment of horror. Aaron Kwok, starring as The Monkey King himself, gives a smoother portrayal than his predecessor. I'm unsure if it was a character choice after the events of the first movie or an actor's choice to make the character a little cooler, but it's a good choice nonetheless, making him simultaneously more relatable and dreamy, but still with his playful monkey mannerisms and charm.
The Monkey King 2 is a top notch spectacle, in incredible 3D, that puts Hollywood's latest over the top endeavors to shame. With movies like Gods of Egypt, and all of its gloriously shiny cultural appropriation, happening more often than not, it is wonderful to see a big budget film made by and for its own culture. It adds more than authenticity. It's also amazing to see how majorly the movie has done in the Chinese box office. No doubt due to its timed release around the Chinese New Year, celebrating the year of the monkey, the film has already set a world record of $548 million in one week, topping Star Wars: The Force Awakens which previously held the spot. And The Monkey King 2 well deserves all the success that the year of the monkey brings to it.