So I watched Kung Fu Panda 3…
I know I’ve been saying this constantly over my last few posts but the beginning of this year really was a horrible time for me in terms of regular movie watching. This film is yet another addition to the ever-growing list of movies I missed out seeing in cinemas. I guess I was obligated not to watch this one in cinemas since I had missed out on seeing the first and second Kung Fu Panda movies at theatres. At least I’m consistent.
Okay, basic plot: When Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announces his plans to retire, it becomes the responsibility of The Dragon Warrior – Po (Jack Black) – to become the teacher of The Furious Five. Po is, however, not a natural teacher and his failure in teaching The Five leads to a crisis of self. Po’s crisis is further escalated when his biological father – Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) comes back into Po’s life. Po has little time to process his father’s arrival as a new threat in the form of Kai (J.K. Simmons) – an ancient warrior who is hellbent on stealing the chi of the world’s most powerful kung fu masters – arises. Po must now fulfill his true destiny as The Dragon Warrior and complete the journey that Master Oogway set him on.
Over the course of the Kung Fu Panda Trilogy the focus has moved away from martial arts to straight out magic. In the first film we saw how Po’s unique attributes such as his insatiable hunger and rotund physique could be turned into a kung fu style. It was an extremely character-specific journey and only one that he could walk in order to defeat his villain. In the second film it became about Po just being a part of a prophecy and, therefore, having to work less to actually achieve his goals. In this film, Po could have been a brain-dead zombie and he would have won because he’s reduced to nothing but a pawn in yet another prophecy. Look I don’t mind prophecies, they can be really mystical and add layers to a story but when you overuse them then they dilute the quality of a character, as happens in this film.
Someone is prophecised to do something so all they have to do is show up. There’s no hard work that needs to be put in or sacrifice. It’s already been foretold so all you have to do is stand where you’re supposed to stand and the prophecy will work itself out. We’ve gone from Po being a badass, self-made Kung Fu hero to him just being a piece in a game of fate. They’ve completely robbed the character of all the hard work and fortitude that made him memorable in the first case. Furthermore, this film feels an unnecessary need to try to connect everything. It tries to create a link between the first film and it and it feels cumbersome and rushed. The beauty of the first film was the randomness of Po being chosen as The Dragon Warrior. Kung Fu Panda 3 tries to overexplain everything and takes the magic out of the first two films – especially the first. Worst of all, Kung Fu Panda 3 just didn’t make me laugh.
Luckily not everything is doom and gloom. This film does still do the things that worked in the first two well. It’s beautifully animated and once again the use of different animation styles to distinguish the presence of dreams/flashbacks to current events is inspired. The voice acting is superb with the addition of Hollywood heavyweights Bryan Cranston and J.K. Simmons to the cast. Cranston was phenomenal as Li – Po’s biological father – he’s a funny and entertaining character who you can’t help but love. Simmons unfortunately doesn’t get the screentime that I think his talent deserves. I’ll speak about why this is and why I didn’t like his character – Kai – very much. Jack Black returns to voice Po and it’s truly the role he has born to play. He has the fun-loving spirit and heart necessary to portray Po in spades and he delivers another great turn as everyone’s favourite martial-arts-loving Panda.
One of my favourite features about Kung Fu Panda has always been its villains. Ian McShane’s Tai Lung was a menacing juggernaut; Gary Oldman’s Lord Shen was a devious and ruthless tyrant and J.K. Simmons’ Kai is…well…he just kinda…yeah, he’s the dud of the group. Kung Fu Panda definitely has a set formula for its villains – good guy gone bad, scorned by those he held close and hungry for revenge and power. Kai ticks all these boxes but unfortunately he lacks something that previous villains before him have always had – personality. Tai Lung had his arrogance, Shen his megalomania; but Kai just feels empty. He belongs to that annoying group of villains who are evil purely because they’re evil. There’s nothing more to them and this is disappointing because of the rich villains we’ve had in the past in this franchise.
Overall, Kung fu Panda 3 suffers from ‘last installment suckiness’. The same as films like The Dark Knight Rises, Return of The Jedi and The Godfather III before it have all suffered from. It isn’t a horrible movie but when you compare it to those that came before it, you’re left rather disappointed. If you’ve been a fan of the franchise it warrants watching but otherwise, it can wait. 6/10