Monday, 28 March 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Who'd of thought this franchise would get this far? A silly fantasy about a kung fu panda and various other martial arts skilled animals, all guided by the wise old Master Shifu. The wacky adventures of Po and his plucky band of ninja-esque warriors across the wild east. All along his destiny has apparently pointed in one direction, to become the chosen one. He's trained to become a kung fu master, battled a muscular snow Leopard, a powerful Peacock, and now he must defeat a mighty Yak with the help of his new found family.

Yep so in this third instalment Po is given the reins of teacher by Master Shifu as he retires. Rather predictably Po finds his new undertaking harder than expected and begins to question whether or not he is right for the role, or whether he even wants it. This straight away conjures up the rather tired old formula of the underdog scenario, with Po struggling with his requirements at first but slowly gaining momentum as he goes. Of course Shifu completely believes in him and stands by him all the way, a typical Rocky type scenario basically which we saw in the first movie of this franchise. Anyway Po goes home and bumps into another panda called Li Shan who amazingly turns out to be his dad, something that surely must have triggered suspicion in Po considering he hasn't come across another panda before, I think. The whole panda village concept also seemed rather odd because it seems unusual that no other pandas have ever come through Po's region before. I have always kinda got the impression that Po might be the last panda, but all of a sudden there's an entire village! that apparently never travel much because we have never seen any up to this point, well that's how I've always seen it.

Anywho, Po and the panda village must all band together and fight against the evil Kai who happens to be a vicious spirit warrior from the, errr...Chinese spirit world. This large yak has defeated all the other masters in the realm by taking their chi and...umm, absorbing it or something. He is able to turn each master into a statue made of jade and control them in a zombie like state so he can...return to the land of the living? I think. Once back he will presumably take control and rule the land. But before he can do this he must obtain the Dragon Masters chi, the chi of Po, luckily Po has the strength of many panda children, elderly pandas and middle aged pandas to help him. Question is why he would actually need their help seeing as he's the bloody Dragon Master but anyway, don't question it eh.

K, no surprise the movie looks gorgeous, a sumptuous, vividly coloured spectacle of eastern tropes set within the typical Hollywood blockbuster vehicle. The scenery is easily the best element of the visuals with some stunning sprawling landscapes on display, some really lovely fantastical locations that just make you wanna pack up and go there. Naturally all the characters are again visualised well with plenty of detail, including realistic fur and shiny bright eyes. Most have their own distinct look but you can't help but sense a Disney vibe going through them all (or at least I could), nevertheless they all look great with some having the added bonus of some great costume design too, looking at Tigress mainly. My fave character would probably have to be Master Mantis mainly because of his size and cuteness factor, dare I say there's an Ant-Man vibe going on there, lots of vibes folks. I wasn't so sold with the main villain this time though, in all fairness he looked kinda lame and just felt sorta dull. I mean, how can you make a yak look exciting? maybe they should of chosen a different animal? He didn't really seem menacing enough to me, I know its a kids film but still, he could of been a bit more dangerous methinks. I did really like his jade blades and the fact he turned the other Masters into jade statues or jade warriors. The striking green of the jade just looked really nice, it really popped out of the screen and was a nice visual highlight. The same can be said for the saturated colours of the spirit world which were a feast for your eyes, somehow this films colour palette made me hungry.

The weak point of the movie was the plot for me. Lets be honest there is nothing new here, we've seen this type of stuff so many times, even in the earlier movies of this franchise. Once again you have the underdog premise with Po, the self pity and self-loathing aspect of his character which tends to get a bit repetitive. Its not all the same for Po though as here he must use his skills and training to train all the other pandas in the village. So finally we see a more confident Po who is actually utilising the stuff he's been learning over the last two movies, he's a totally loveable doofus of course, but now a doofus with skills. The cheesy, cliched stuff comes in the form of the training of the pandas to fight back against an evil force, something that has been used in so many movies over time. The fact that Po must find each pandas skill or talent and somehow transform that into an effective method of attack against Kai, is sooo dated! So all the kids utilise their juggling/balancing skills, a female panda utilises her dancing skills, some pandas utilise their rolling/tumbling skills and a strong panda enhances his hugging/strength skills. But again, those visuals, oh boy! love the training montage visuals and colour scheme, it looks like a traditional Chinese/Japanese painting come to life.

As expected the visuals are the most impressive aspect as with all animated movies, mainly because they just get better and better. This film doesn't disappoint with that, nor does it disappoint with eastern promise, mythology and ancient Chinese culture, perfectly blended in with American/western nerd culture. In other words traditional Chinese/Asian culture is respected and accentuated in all its forms with great detail and much tender loving care. Every aspect from the native structures, temples and terrain, to the costumes and to aspects such as traditional philosophies and of course martial arts. Now add to that the more traditional American comicbook stylings with a hint of superhero kickassery and you have a wild mix of chopsocky fantasy.

Still I can't deny that this is probably the weakest of the trio mainly because its just unoriginal, like I said already, we've seen it all before. Yeah to a degree they have gone along the lines of, if it ain't broke don't fix it, which is fine and it works, but there's only so far you can take that. How many times do we need to see these stereotypical, Karate Kid-esque, underdog/hero tales? The voice cast are all solid but there's nothing special here, the humour is a bit flat I think, a bit stale now, and the plot is tepid with an uninteresting baddie and a weak finale. Like I say if it wasn't for those jaw-dropping visuals...I dunno. Still this just manages to keep its head above the waves and round off a very good trilogy, just leave it at this though, any more will most definitely spoil from here on.