Starring (voices): Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons, James Hong
Rated PG for Martial Arts Action and Some Mild Rude Humor
"Kung Fu Panda" is what it is. You want more Po? You got it. More kung fu? It's here. You want a surprise cameo by Humphrey Bogart back from the dead? That's one thing that's not in here. For those of you who view that as a spoiler, I offer my deepest apologies.
Like most franchise entries not based on books, "Kung Fu Panda 3" exists for one simple reason: the first two made money. If you choose to see it, your money won't be wasted. If you don't, you're not missing much.
Po (Black) is settled into his role as the dragon warrior. Master Shifu (Hoffman) has decided to retire from teaching and has handed over the reigns to Po. His first attempt at teaching is an unmitigated disaster. But more trouble arises when Kai (Simmons), a spiritual warrior, returns to the Valley of Peace intending to destroy the Jade Palace. To defeat him, Po must learn to control his chi. To do that, he must journey back to the land of the pandas with his long lost father, Li (Cranston).
"Kung Fu Panda 3" has everything that made the other two movies fun. Action, humor, a heart...all the good stuff. Actually, it has too much of it. The middle section sags a little bit. The need to make it bigger, badder, and, forgive me for the pun, "more awesome," dilutes the film's strengths. It's too busy.
All the cast members return, and all do their part. Jack Black easily slides back into the self-doubting fanboy routine while Dustin Hoffman is also good as the exasperated Shifu. The newcomers to the cast are also strong. Bryan Cranston gives what is his best performance that I've seen as Li, mainly because he's shows energy. And J.K. Simmons is almost totally unrecognizable as Kai. With his slow, deep voice, you'd never realize it was the same guy who played J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" movies or the monstrous Fletcher in "Whiplash."
If I don't sound particularly enthused about "Kung Fu Panda 3," well, it's because I'm not. I was entertained while I was there, and I might buy it when it becomes available at a discount, but this franchise needs to change things up the next time around or, preferably, retire.