Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) Review: Third Time's A-Charming
When it comes to trilogies, the third film is usually the worst one. It’s touted as the satisfying finale to the epic saga of the films before it, but it never lives up to those resolutory expectations. Instead what you get is a film that buckles under the weight of the stories that came before it, and a franchise that regardless of its stellar beginning and middle chapters, is remembered half heartedly because of a botched finale. There are those trilogies that are more episodic, with each iteration serving as more of development for characters rather than stories, but for those, the third film is the one where the well seems to run dry in the idea department
Kung Fu Panda 3 however joins that little list of franchises that not only has a satisfying third film but in my book, maintained its quality in each movie. This time around Po and the Furious Five are back to fight the evildoer known as Kai, a spirit warrior going around collecting the chi of the Kung Fu masters of China. Kung Fu Masters need Chi to do Kung Fu so that’s understandably bad. Po must defeat the new villain, while balancing his new role of Dojo Master, and working on those deep seeded daddy issues from the 1st and 2nd movie. To do so Po must go on a journey of self discovery and find out if he truly is worthy of the title bestowed upon him 2 movies ago.
Kung Fu Panda 3’s biggest sin is perhaps its tried formula. It’s very much the same story as the first and second film. Po has to go on a journey that is interrupted by the actions of a formidable foe. The formula is at it’s best however, as I found the movie surprisingly able to find new ways to tell the same old story. New additions to the cast like Bryan Cranston as Po’s long lost father and JK Simmons as the villainous Kai, keep the film feeling fresh as both do a stellar job with the new characters.
The character work is actually very clever in the movie. The new characters especially don’t feel tacked on for the sake of selling toys, and have some thought behind them. Kai is a villain who has returned from the spirit world where he spent the last 500 years. His whole thing is getting angry that no one remembers anything about him because…well he existed 500 years ago, and people get on with their lives. Po’s dad Li Shen comes with all the baggage of having never known his son, and the relationship between he and Po makes for an engaging emotional core of the movie, which is more than a movie called Kung Fu Panda deserves, but what the series it’s become known for.
The old cast is good. Jack Black and company do the same thing they’ve been doing, which is not a bad job at all. What the movie does well is providing good character moments across the board that doesn’t make the audience question the point of any of them. As Po discovers his Panda heritage with his dear old dad, he’s introduced to his long lost list panda relatives. They’re all identified by a specific attribute that doubles as a joke making the pandas are distinguishable enough and not feeling like the dwarves in the Hobbit.
The character work, works, as well as the action does, though I was only disappointed in that there was so little of it. When the stuff is on the screen however, it shows the benefit animation brings to the table. It’s fluid, fast paced and oh so satisfying. Live action stuff is good, but there’s always the limitation of what we the viewer are willing to believe is real. The skill is in maintaining the illusion of a 50 foot leap in the air, realistically speaking. CGI helps, but eventually, most live action scenes as bombastic as the ones seen in this movie, tend to verge on being hard to swallow. In this film the action scenes are cleverly thought out and riveting, and you never spend time questioning the possibility of them, because the panda is talking to the tiger.
The other thing I liked about the movie is just how funny it is. Previously I’ve found the Kung Fu Panda films to have…serviceable humour, with the crux of the joke a lot of the time being how fat and lazy Po is. Thankfully the series has refrained from the use of fart jokes thus far. It was surprising to me the rate at which the script dispensed with jokes, and how many of them hit. Going into the movie I expected slick action, more heart than it deserves and a few jokes here and there that worked. My expectations were surpassed in this regard, as I laughed loudly and heartily. I was like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.
I suppose that’s where it boils down to is, this movie is very much more of the same, albeit with a few interesting ideas thrown in, but essentially what you’ve seen is what you get. The test is whether or not what you’ve seen has been enjoyed thus far. For me, the person writing this review, I’ve liked the series, and thought it’s underrated as it doesn’t get the same praise that other animated films get. It’s not gonna change any minds, but for my money it did it’s job well, and that’s to keep me entertained.
Rating = Big Screen Watch