Kung Fu Panda 3 follows the adventures of the titular Kung Fu Panda, Po (Jack Black). In this iteration of the series, a villainous water buffalo (I assume) escapes from the Spirit Realm where he was banished in order to steal the Chi of every Martial Arts master in the world and in so doing, become the strongest in the world. Meanwhile, Po comes across his biological father and leaves with him in order to better understand himself.
I’ve been a long time fan of the Kung Fu Panda series. The first one I thought was a fun romp in a brand new world of martial arts and animals. The second is by far my favorite with a surprisingly dark backstory coupled with the lesson that even though “your story may not have a happy beginning, but it doesn’t make you who you are.” I felt the second movie had the most catharsis for Po as a character, with the conflict of him not knowing who he is to finally realizing that he is who he chooses to be, to me, being a very satisfying arc.
It is sad to say that in my humble opinion, I feel that Kung Fu Panda 3 takes a step backwards from this. A lot of it stems from the fact that I feel like we’ve been here before. Again, Po is trying to find out who he is but this time, by trying to find out what it means to be a panda. Am I the only who feels that this negates the lesson learned at the end of the last film?
In the beginning, Po is sort of forced into the role of being a teacher, which he has great difficulty doing (to hilarious results). Then the movie takes a left turn by introducing Po’s biological father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) and Po goes off to learn about being a panda from him. Meanwhile, Kai (J.K. Simmons), the aforementioned villain, is wreaking havoc and stealing the chi of several martial arts masters. Why? Who knows. He’s just evil.
The film feels unfocused. I’m not entirely sure what kind of lesson it’s trying to give because the story meanders about a bunch. There are a lot of emotional moments and the movie does those moments well, however, I’m not entirely sure how those moments are supposed to connect. Or maybe its that the conclusion it comes to amounts to pretty much the same conclusion Po came to in the last movie.
Not to say that this movie is terrible. It is an extremely well done piece of film. The environments and the action scenes are as breathtaking as the previous films. Bryan Cranston plays the part of a father trying to bring his family back together to perfection. You can tell that J.K. Simmons was having a lot of fun with the character of Kai, despite the fact that the only thing that made him interesting was his sense of humor. Otherwise, he’s pretty much the same villain from the first movie.
My favorite part of the film took place within the Spirit Realm, a realm where space and color combine to make a beautiful parallel world. It is a realm dictated by the spirit of the martial artists that reside within, with Kai’s decaying green energy fighting against Po’s lively golden energy.
This film is not terrible. It is simply serviceable. It does the job it set out to do and nothing more. It didn’t break new ground, but at the same time, I wasn’t expecting it to. What I got was a fun adventure featuring several characters I enjoy very much in a world I love being in. What I was expecting, however, was a continuation of the growing maturity the last film showed me. This was what I was missing when I viewed this film.