Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

So this just happened. After getting home from seeing Kung Fu Panda 3, I went to my blog archives to find my review of Kung Fu Panda 2 to remind myself what exactly I thought of that movie right after seeing it. Turns out that review doesn't exist. Did I just not write a review for it? Confused, I checked the release date for the movie. 2011?!?!?!?! It's been FIVE YEARS since Kung Fu Panda 2 was released and EIGHT YEARS since the first one was released?????? Wow! I had no idea it's been that long. Time sure does fly. I do remember being nervous about Kung Fu Panda 2. The first one ended so perfectly, I didn't know how they were going to pull off a sequel and make it equally as epic. Boy did they prove me wrong. When push comes to shove, I'd still say the original is better than the sequel, but not by much. With how that turned out, I was totally down for Kung Fu Panda 3. No nervousness. Just excitement. That excitement totally payed off because now Dreamworks has conjured up one heck of a trilogy as Kung Fu Panda 3 is right on par with Kung Fu Panda 2 in terms of quality.

The Kung Fu Panda franchise has done an amazing job at finding the perfect balance between action, comedy, and emotion that is great for both kids and adults. The idea of a bumbling panda becoming a kung fu master is a really silly, yet hilarious premise. At the same time, it packs a huge emotional punch as we learn in the first movie that the secret to becoming special is believing in yourself. Whatever goal you have in life, if you believe you can achieve that goal and then work hard to achieve it, that goal can be reached. What a great message! Then we learn in the second movie that your past doesn't have to determine your present or your future. Another great message! Now speaking of the past, this third movie is out to teach another great lesson and it uses Po's past to set this up. If you remember the end of the second movie, we get the tease that Po's real father is still out there and is living in a thriving panda village. That clued us in early that they had an idea in mind for the third movie long before it actually was released. Five years later, that's the exact premise he goes with. Po's biological father shows up and Po goes to this panda village to learn a new lesson and prepare to stop our new villain, one that is more powerful and dangerous than any other villain we've seen in this universe so far.

Speaking of that villain, let's start there because in my opinion that was the most intriguing part of this movie. Tai Lung and Lord Shen were our previous two villains and they were decent. Tai Lung looked super awesome as leopards are boss, but he was more of an afterthought if I'm being honest. The first movie was about Po becoming a kung fu master. He needed a villain to fight. But the movie wasn't about the villain. Lord Shen in the second movie was a lot more fleshed out and had a deep, personal connection to Po. Thus he's probably the best written villain in the series. But as a peacock he didn't quite look as ominous as Tai Lung. Kai is our villain in this third movie and as far as the look and the voice, he easily takes the cake as the best villain. He's a big, scary Yak from the spirit realm that has a connection to Grand Master Oogway, the wise tortoise who chose Po as the Dragon Warrior. Grand Master Oogway was also Master Shifu's master and in this universe was the founder of kung fu itself. We learn that Kai was the friend of Grand Master Oogway until he turned against Oogway and was banished to the spirit realm. Now he's back and he's out to essentially destroy everything that's good and he'd dang good and doing so. No one stands a chance to this guy.

In addition to the brilliant look of his character and the well-written backstory, what seals the deal for Kai is J.K. Simmons' fantastic voice acting because this character just sounds like a scary beast that you don't want to mess with. We learned in Whiplash that J.K. Simmons is excellent at being scary as he played the band teacher from Hell in that movie and that definitely carries over in this movie. Thus he is able to carry this movie on his back and make it a fantastic ride as he just terrorizes the whole country. Not even Master Shifu or the Furious Five is a match for this guy. Adding to his power is that once he defeats someone, he is able to turn them into jade zombies of themselves and use them to fight on his side, thus in addition to his own strength, he has an army of former heroes that are being forced against their will to fight for the wrong side. Thus the only person that is able to stop Kai and his army is our Dragon Warrior Po and his own army of pandas. But the catch here is that Po has to be able to teach them. That's his next step as a kung fu master. He's trained to become a kung fu master and he's learned to fight, but now he has to teach and that's what he has a really hard time doing.

Yes, this movie is quite the wild ride from start to finish. But specifically the finish. Even though this is a movie you can thoroughly enjoy even if you know the whole movie, I won't spoil what happens in the second half of this movie. You can probably see the ending coming from a mile away, but that's okay in this instance. It's not the type of movie where crazy twists and turns are needed. Needless to say that the ending is an absolute blast and probably the best finale out of all three Kung Fu Panda movies. If I'm being nit-picky, it's the first half of the movie that does struggle a bit. The first two movies flowed very well. They had the perfect balance of humor and emotion while providing a lot of fun action with a great story. This movie has all those elements, but it's a lot less engaging to start out. It still has a lot of great humor that made me laugh pretty good, but a lot of it did feel a bit forced. It felt like they were trying really hard to capture the magic of the first two movies. While they didn't necessarily fail, there were times where I could tell they were trying too hard. Certain things were a little too silly. The writing wasn't always clean and crisp. The flow wasn't perfect. But it was fine. I was still enjoying myself even if the magic wasn't fully there.

But there definitely was a moment where all of that changed. I'm not going to dive into the story or tell you where that happens, but if you're watching you should know exactly what moment I'm talking about. After a bit of a rocky start, even though I was enjoying myself, I realized this had the potential to tank a bit and simply be an average animated movie, but it went the opposite direction and hit a grand slam with its ending. As such, there is another message that this movie teaches. It doesn't stand out quite as much as the first movie. While watching that first movie, I was wondering how they were going to pull off the transformation from bumbling panda to kung fu master for Po. When his goose father gave him the speech towards the end about the secret ingredient, that was a moment that blew my mind. It's a moment that I still remember to this day and it's a lesson that has honestly helped me personally throughout my life. The second movie had good moments that taught good lessons, but nothing like the first movie. Same thing for this movie. There were several moments where I thought to myself that they were teaching a great lesson that people should remember. But I didn't have an experience like I did with the first movie. But that's okay. There were still good messages taught and a lot of fun to be had.

In the end, I had a ton of fun Kung Fu Panda 3. No, the magic of the movie wasn't quite there during the first half of the movie as there were times it felt like they were trying too hard to repeat what they accomplished in the first two movies, but I was still having fun with the movie. That magic was recaptured in the second half of the movie and thus as a whole I think this is another great addition to the excellent Kung Fu Panda series. I think it's harsh to call this the worst movie of the franchise. Third best is probably the most accurate terminology because all three of these movies are great! In my opinion, this third one does have the best villain of the three as well as the best final battle of the three. The ending doesn't necessarily gift-wrap the franchise up, if you know what I mean. This is the type of franchise where they could do a Kung Fu Panda 4 without making people angry. But with the way that Dreamworks is slowing things down and focusing on quality instead of quantity, it'll be at least five years before they have room on their schedule to make another one, so in my opinion they might as well call it good. If they do, they can now proudly say that they have made of the best animated trilogies ever. Well done Dreamworks. My grade for Kung Fu Panda 3 is an 8/10.

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