Review: 'Kung Fu Panda 3' Doesn't Pack the Same Punch

P.T. Philben ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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Kung Fu Panda 3: Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
The third installment of a once successful franchise has a lot to live up to and it rarely works out. For every Return of The King there is, at least, a dozen letdowns (Godfather: Part III, Spider-Man 3, etc.). The first Kung Fu Panda exceeded expectations by cleverly exploiting the cliches entrenched in the story they were telling and drawing us in with the vibrant personalities of its characters, particularly the titular Panda messiah figure, Po (Jack Black). The second film managed to overcome sequel fatigue with a richer character driven narrative and a substantially more interesting villain. Kung Fu Panda 2 also improved on the previous films stylish aesthetic and phenomenal fight sequences which are up there with the best of Jackie Chan. As far as a family friendly franchise made by Dreamworks goes, Kung Fu Panda 3 has a lot to live up to, and it manages to succeed in many places. In others not so much.
From the very beginning the film delivers in terms of style. The opening scene is a testament to creativity in action sequences as well as phenomenal art direction. Plus there are very few things that sound more awesome conceptually than a Turtle (Randall Duk Kim) fighting an Ox (The main villain Kai, as played by J.K. Simmons) in a spiritual plain (a la Dragon Ball Z fashion) with the added bonus of it being artistically done. It doesn’t seem to hold the kind of dramatic weight that the filmmakers seem to be going for but it’s a heck of a spectacle.
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Kung Fu Panda 3. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
From there the film shifts the focus back on Po who seems to have a shortcoming that you would think he might have addressed after years of holding the “Dragon Warrior” title. Therein lies a flaw for the narrative as part of a trilogy. Po feels roughly in the same place as he did at the beginning of the second film. He has assumed his role as the Dragon Warrior with a certain amount of confidence but is still very immature. It feels almost as though the second film is being ignored in favor of a straight sequel even though the film’s driving narrative has to do with Po meeting his biological relatives, which was set up in the last film.
Recent Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston is cast as Po’s long lost biological father, Li Shan. You really can’t go wrong in casting Cranston as the father in almost any context and his performance presents the film with some of its more emotionally resonating moments. Li comes to Po just at a time when the villain Kai has returned from the grave with an army of Jade warriors created from the essence of warriors he has defeated and now Po must master Chi to defeat him. Po must rediscover back to his roots as a Panda in order to master this difficult craft. So, the exact same plot as the last film accepts calling it Chi instead of “Inner Peace” and it somehow manages to be vaguer and have less of a sense of humor about how absurd the concept is. This film generally fails in many humorous beats as it does not take as much advantage as the previous films did to exploit cliche elements of the films story for humorous observations after the conclusion of the first act. The filmmakers do manage to avoid the pitfall of straight up falling into a rut of cliches but the experience does not feel like a roller coaster as the last two did.
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Kung Fu Panda 3. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
The villain Kai is a waste of the vocal talent from J.K. Simmons. His powers are interesting and stylishly presented as always but outside of that and a running joke about him having been so long gone from the physical world that no one living including the wise master Shifu (voiced again by Dustin Hoffman) has ever heard of him, there is nothing memorable about his character. He’s perfectly serviceable as an adversary but he does not tie into the larger plot as well as well as previous antagonists in the franchise. The fights with Kai and his jade minions are fun to see but it never feels as heavy because he is so loosely tied to what is going on. It may also be that the fights were not choreographed/animated as well as the last two films, but the lack of investment in what is happening emotionally takes a lot of the thrill out of the sequences.
Overall it’s a letdown. The film’s impressive cast, which also includes Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, James Hong and more feel underutilized. The writing is less clever than one might hope for, the villain is lackluster and the film failed to deliver as a proper continuation. It’s hard to call the movie bad, since there is plenty to appreciate, but there is certainly not enough to call it particularly good. Especially given what did work, the style, the action, the humor and the voice acting were all done worlds better in the previous two installments. It may seem unfair to simply compare the film to its two predecessors, but it’s hard to be thrilled with this installment when the first two were so inspired in many ways. That, and like The Godfather: Part III, Kung Fu Panda 3 falls short on its own merits every bit as much as it does as a follow-up.
Overall Grade: C
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGPPfZIvtCw[/embedyt]
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