Sunday, March 6, 2016

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

I really can't offer Kung Fu Panda 3 a fair review. The simple fact is, I liked part 2 too much to look at this in isolation. Hell, I picked Kung Fu Panda 2 as my favorite movie of 2011. And, while Kung Fu Panda 3 has plenty of merits, it's just not a worthy successor.

But it definitely has its merits. The comedy is solid, whether that's what I wanted or not. And visually, this is a gorgeous film. The backdrops are beautifully rendered in a stylized manner, and the action sequences are breathtaking to behold. I enjoyed watching this movie immensely, even while the decisions made pissed me off.

Spoilers follow, if you care.

The movie opens strong with a sequence in the spirit realm, where a new villain is imprisoning the souls of history's greatest Kung Fu masters and using them to battle his way back into the real world. Master Oogway is the last of his victims, and he's captured and transformed into a Jade talisman. Before he's taken, he alludes to having set a hero in motion towards being able to stop the villain.

And, as I always do in these situations, I crossed my fingers and prayed this would be the time the master secretly wasn't referring to the obvious male protagonist. But it quickly became apparent that this wasn't going to fake us (and the villain) out into focusing on Po, only for Tigress to step in at the last minute and prove that - while she wasn't the Dragon Warrior - she had a mystical destiny of her own.

It's okay - I'm used to disappointment. Someday I'll tell you how angry I was at the end of The Matrix when Trinity didn't turn out to be The One. I'm still not over that.

But I digress. All that stuff with the spirit realm and the evil ox warrior with an army (really more of a squadron) of jade Kung Fu warriors is essentially the B-plot. Because what's really important is Po's relationship with his two fathers. He finally reunites with his biological dad, who's terrified of losing him again. To keep Po out of harm's way, he tells his son he can teach him to channel and manipulate chi, the one power that can stop the villain. So Po heads off to learn about being a Panda, leading to comic shenanigans.

Of course, his adoptive father goes along, too. Shifu, who's been a father figure to Po all along, stays behind, but they only get a few scenes together pursuing that relationship. Then, at the end, we get an admittedly cool sequence with Oogway in which the Kung Fu legend serves as a fourth father figure for our hero. And, really, what he needs to learn is how to be a teacher, which essentially boils down to him learning to become a father figure.

Fathers teach sons, and sons teach fathers, and so and so forth. In order to fit all that crap into a brisk hour and a half, all the interesting characters are basically sidelined. I'm talking about the Furious Five, of course. Sure, they each get a minute or two to stand out before being captured, but only Tigress gets to remain in control through the movie. To be fair, they avoid nerfing her, which I appreciate, but her role is a far cry from that of the ultimate bad-ass she played in the second movie.

Like I said, I know I'm not being fair. But this isn't a standalone film - it's the next installment in what's been an extremely promising series with a rich, intriguing world that's barely been scratched. The last movie managed to be funny without feeling like a comedy. It was a martial film first and foremost, and it was a damn good one. This installment maintained the quality of the action, but it was no longer the core of the film. Like part one, this was a silly movie with some cool fight scenes.

It was a kids film. And it was a kids film that retread some very common themes and plot points.

I will say that Lindsay had a more favorable reaction than I did, and she made some good points. A good portion of the movie was devoted to Po being reintroduced to his roots, something which might offer representation to adopted children. In addition, while the father/son dynamic was constant, the movie didn't fall into masculine, testosterone-laden cliches. So, kudos for including those elements.

But while there were female characters present (and - to be fair - given a variety of roles and body types), they were relegated to supporting positions. Even Tigress was mainly here to be Po's friend, not his equal.

I had mixed reactions to the first movie in this series, but I remember thinking how much I wanted a sequel that delivered some of the promise of the premise. Then, when Kung Fu Panda 2 delivered on that, all I wanted was more.

Visually, this movie was just as good as its predecessors, and the action was comparable. I enjoyed the jokes and - despite my complaints - thought it was a solid enough film. But I honestly don't care whether they make another.

Am I being unfair to what was essentially a really good kids film with some awesome fights? Well, yeah - I think I already covered that. This wasn't at all a bad movie, but it was definitely a disappointment, at least to this fan.

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