Thursday, April 28, 2016

Passing Thoughts On: Kung Fu Panda 3

Here's another movie I'd meant to go see well before I actually did.

The saddest part of this, aside from my actual thoughts on the movie itself, is that until the last week and a half or so, I have no good excuse or explanation as to why this one almost got away from me.

That part just after the jump is where the story needs to begin, I think. You see, when I went to see The Force Awakens and Red Green's I'm Not Old, I'm Ripe in quick succession, the intent was that within a week, tops, I was to see this as well, and share my thoughts on it, as I tend to do with such things. That didn't happen, mostly because I developed the worst health issues I've had in... ten years, minimum, I'd wager, and perhaps closer to twenty, as I had to call in to work one day because I was too sick to go.

Beyond that, I have no excuse or explanation for how this movie almost got away from me. I really don't, and I'd kind of like to. I think I knew it was going to come out, because there was kind of a big deal about it being around the same time as TFA and how it was going to be a couple weeks after so there wouldn't be as much competition. I can still see the competition from Star Wars being a bit much for this one.

At the same time, though, it seems like KFP3 was in first-run theaters for less time than the first two. Maybe it's just that I was distracted by other things, though. I have been, after all, working quite a bit more than I have in awhile, and that's kept me off my guard and away from too many other things that are important in my life. This is not to say, of course, that I don't need the money. I do. It's how I pay for the other things that are important to me.

It also seems like this third Kung Fu Panda movie had a good deal less media around it than its immediate predecessor, certainly, and perhaps even the original. After having seen this movie, I can understand why, I suppose, and I'll get into that after I give a little personal viewing history of the franchise.

Back in 2008, when the original Kung Fu Panda came out, it was a late spring or summer movie. My review date, now that I look at it again, was July 2, 2008. Or, at least that's when I posted it to the newsgroup. I probably saw the movie and wrote the review a few days before that. I remember the afternoon, most likely a day off in late June, when I found myself bored in the afternoon. With that in mind, I decided that I'd go kill a couple hours by going to see a movie. The first one to catch my interest, after doing a little research, was something called Kung Fu Panda. It was still in the first-run theater, and I figured I could splurge for an afternoon show, since that was only like five bucks or $5.50 at the time and I really needed something to do. As I said in that original review, I pretty much had some idea of what this movie was when I went in and still had no expectations of it, which meant it had nowhere to go but up. A few weeks later, when the movie was in my local second-run theater, I went and plopped down three bucks to see it a second time in a theater. It was still good enough that I wound up buying it on DVD when it came out a few months later. What really made me love this movie so much is that it had a hero who was, at least at the beginning, very much like me: that one guy who everybody was pretty much correct in writing off as a big fat looser who would be the least likely hero ever, only to have him turn out to be the hero of the story after all.

More or less three years later, in 2011, Kung Fu Panda 2 came out, and I reviewed it here. While the original didn't exactly set up a sequel, it seemed like the ending was open enough for such a thing to work, and I thought it did work very well. We got to see some character development and learn a little history along the way. The short form of my thoughts on the now first sequel is that it did pretty much exactly what one would expect such a movie to do, which was a good thing.

Which brings us another four and a half years forward to the end of January this year, when Kung Fu Panda 3 was released. I had intended to go see this in the first-run theater, much as I had done with the first two movies in the series and had intended to do with The Force Awakens as well. Life, however, had other plans and ideas for me, and I could not make that happen. I fear that the same will surely happen with regard to the one other movie I'd kind of like to see, but I'll get to that later on, both here and as its own thing.

This brings us to the story of Kung Fu Panda 3. I went with Star Wars references for quite a lot of what I said about the first two movies in this series, and I can think of some that apply here, too. It's just that I got more a video-games vibe from this third entry. The villain this time around is an ox guy, I'm assuming, named Kai, who was Master Oogway's partner well before Oogway met and trained Shifu leading into the first movie. Since both Oogway the Tortoise and Kai are no longer amongst the living, they meet in the Spirit World as the movie starts. Kai is collecting chi, or spirit energy, so he can go back to the world of the living and take over because he's evil now that he's been dead for five hundred years. As luck would have it, Oogway's chi is the last bit he needs to cross back over, and before Oogway gets turned into a jade zombie, he tells Kai that there is a panda in the world of the living who can stop him.

Meanwhile, Shifu has decided that it's time to step down as Grand Master of the Jade Temple, and after explaining to Po and the Furious Five that Po's the head guy now and will be heading up the lessons, the little red panda dude pretty much yoinks off until the story needs him again.

The biggest major development here is that Po does indeed meet his dad and go to the secret village of pandas that he was born and raised in, at least until Shen attacked to set up the events of the second movie. Beyond that, all I can really say is probably one of the worst things I can think of to say about this movie in that it firmly met all the expectations I had for it, no more, no less. We got to see Po meet a society of other pandas, including his father. His mother was presumably dead. The other panda characters are pretty much what one might expect: the hugger, the old lady, the ribbon dancer, and so on. Even Po's panda dad was who one would expect him to be, for the most part.

After botching his first attempt at teaching his fellow Masters at the Jade Temple, the search for Kai and a way to stop him begins. Po goes with his panda dad, accompanied by Mister Ping, the goose dude who'd raised him, to learn from his people and their various character traits. One thing I do recall from discussions of preview materials was that the ribbon dancer, a panda girl called Mei Mei, was supposed to have a bigger role as Po's love interest than she turned out to.

Probably the best part of this movie for me was Kai, the bad guy. He reminded me very much of the Kratos character from the God of War series, right down to the swords chained to his wrists. Though I've never played the game myself, I did get quite a bit of entertainment from the Let's Plays done of them by CLG's Apple. (Note: I'm fairly sure Apple's done at least two of the three games in the GoW series, but the playlist I link to above is the only one I could find quickly.)

And because Kai was the best part of the movie for me, the climax in the third act was my favorite part. When Po's Soul Crush or Skadoosh or whatever his Final Blow move is called doesn't work on Kai, the ox explains that it only works on living, mortal beings, which Kai no longer is. With that information in hand, Po sacrifices himself to keep Kai from becoming truly invincible. I'm sure the trope is common amongst media in this genre, but the last place I can easily remember seeing something like it was 2001's Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within, where the male lead does it to get the final wave form sent out to stop the bad guys. I've also heard that there were plans for something like it in a scrapped Star Wars movie, as well, but that's just one of those things I've heard places, as well.

At any rate, Po summons up a giant chi dragon and hands Kai his ass. With that taken care of, Po finds Oogway, who tells the panda that he's the man now, dawg, and he can use Chi Fu to go back to the land of the living if that's what he truly wants.

Back in the land of the living, Po explains that he's got everything he needs now and can indeed take his place as a High Master, if not the Grand Master, in place of Shifu, at the Jade Palace, where everybody from the Valley of Peace and the Panda Village (think the Black Mage Village from Final Fantasy 9) is training in harmony. And they even played at least two versions of Kung Fu Fighting at the end and over the credits.

To sum up here, this movie did exactly what I had expected it to. While I'll happily say that I think it's a good thing, I know it's also kind of a bad thing, too. I liked all three of these movies, and I got exactly what I wanted out of this one. And that's a good thing.

But that's also a bad thing, which makes me really hope this is the last Kung Fu Panda movie. Between the three movies and the handful of episodes from the Nickelodeon series I saw on Hulu a few years back, I'd say everything that can be done has been done with this series. I really hope there's no more new work done for this franchise. I'd hate for it to be hurt the same way so many others I like have been in the past. As much as I liked the first two movies, I'm kind of glad I only got to see this one once.

What's next from here? Well, there's this movie out right now called Zootopia that I've heard good things about. I'm hoping I'll get to see this one in the first-run theater, just so I can have a second shot at it if I want. Popular is not always bad, after all.

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