In X-Men: Apocalypse, Cyclops convinces Nightcrawler to have a regular teenaged afternoon-about-town. They stop in at the mall, cruise downtown, and go to the movies, where they happen to catch Return of the Jedi and note that the third one in any trilogy is “always the worst.” Ahem.
Kung Fu Panda is Kung Fu-cked up. Well, maybe it’s not terrible, but it IS boring and useless. The animation is kind of beautiful at times, and it takes stabs at being heart-warming, but by the third installment, this franchise just feels washed out, and I was never its biggest fan to begin with. The plot is a barely-there mishmash of eastern and western tropes and while it says the right things, it fails to engage.
You may know from previous films that Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) is raised by a restaurateur goose in a village with no other pandas. There is, however, a Kung-Fu master (Dustin Hoffman) and his protégés (Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Lui) which soon includes Po, as improbable as it seems. In this movie, Po’s biological father (Bryan Cranston) shows up in the noodle shop looking for his long-lost son and is thrilled to find that his son is now a dragon warrior because that’s just what his village needs to be saved from the evil villain Kai (J.K. Simmons). But Kai is a super villain and only a master of chi can possibly stand a chance. And rather than mastering chi, Po’s fucked off to magical Panda village where’s fluffing around with the other pandas, stuffing his gourd and rolling about like a big dumb animal.
Don’t worry, it’s a kids’ movie, so everything goes exactly as it should: learn lessons, make fart jokes, yadda yadda yadda. Nobody gets beheaded. Nobody’s femur snaps like a twig. Nobody’s silky soft fur gets worn by a callous victor like a cape. It’s all very, well, PG. Nothing unexpected happens. The plot feels very derivative of the first film’s, and come to think of it, the second’s. No matter how much kung-fu we learn there’s always another threat to vanquish – both the physical ones, and the ones inside our head (cue soft pan-pipe music). God I hate cartoons with morals.
This one just felt strained to me. Strained like trying to take a giant panda poop on a steady diet of white rice and cheese. Strained like the look on your adopted father’s face when your “real” dad shows up for #3. Strained like that feeling in your groin when you execute a kung fu thrust kick without first stretching your hammies. Strained like a fourth simile would be. This one’s just not working for me.