Critics clash over “Kung Fu Panda 4″: Is the franchise losing its punch?

"With a runtime of one hour and 34 minutes, “Kung Fu Panda 4” is fast-paced from the start which causes it to become rushed near the end." - Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon.

The anticipated fourth installment to the Kung Fu Panda franchise released in theaters on March 8. Starring Jack Black as the dragon warrior Po, “Kung Fu Panda 4” follows his reluctant journey to find a successor as tasked by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to become the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. 

Equipped with the Staff of Wisdom gifted to him by the now deceased Master Oogway, Po must travel to Juniper City with the sly fox Zhen (Awkwafina) to take on The Chameleon (Viola Davis)–a revenge-driven shapeshifter who looks to become the most powerful kung fu master.

While the film consisted of good animation, humorous elements, and a fire cover of “Baby One More Time” by Black playing over the credits, “Kung Fu Panda 4” lacks in a variety of spaces– mainly in its lackluster plot and poor time management.

For starters, The Furious Five doesn’t show up in the film until the credits, which removes multiple key players from the storyline. The writers also fell into the lazy copout prevalent in today’s Hollywood by bringing back previous villains including Tai Lung, Lord Shen, and Kai. Zhen ends up betraying Po by stealing his staff and giving it to The Chameleon, equipping her with the key to becoming a kung fu master. In her quest to become an unbeatable antagonist, The Chameleon uses the Staff of Wisdom to access the Spirit Realm. 

Opening a rift between the two universes, she pulls Po’s nemesis’ out of an “Avengers: Endgame” style portal to steal their kung fu abilities. Po, who is unable to beat the unstoppable Chameleon is comically shown up by Zhen in the final battle. In true anti-hero fashion, Zhen, a criminal with inferior fighting abilities compared to Po, feels guilty and somehow beats the overpowered Chameleon and banishes her to the Spirit Realm.

Not only did this whole montage feel like the ending to “The Rise of Skywalker” when Rey beat Emporer Palpatine despite her lack of training, but it all happened unbelievably fast. Viewers blinked and suddenly The Chameleon, who has made herself the most powerful villain in the Kung Fu Panda franchise was defeated. Just when she was at the height of her abilities, she was done for. A true “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” moment.

With a runtime of one hour and 34 minutes, “Kung Fu Panda 4” is fast-paced from the start which causes it to become rushed near the end. Not only is this dilemma evident during the final battle, but it makes the plot feel unfinished and inconclusive. While I find myself yearning for shorter movies when it seems like the minimum length for films these days is three hours, they still must have a good plot and pacing–something “Kung Fu Panda 4” failed to achieve.

Movie studios today also struggle with knowing when to stop adding to their franchises. Take “Toy Story 4” for example. While it was praised by critics and has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film inevitably ruined Woody’s character. In the first three, he was portrayed as a loyal cowboy who stuck by his friends and kid no matter what, and by “Toy Story 4” he was ditching them all for his lost lover Bo Peep. “Kung Fu Panda 4” behaves similarly. 

Po has just become acclimated to life as the dragon warrior and forcing him into a prestigious role when he isn’t ready feels very off. While the theme of the movie is accepting change even when it doesn’t seem right, Po and his ditzy demeanor are nowhere near that level of prestige. In the words of freshman business management major and resident Kung Fu Panda expert Erin Doyle, “Po is meant to be the dragon warrior, he’s not the peacekeeper.”

Dreamworks has yet to greenlight a fifth film in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, but the director Mike Mitchell says he wants to make another movie. Given the impressive numbers “Kung Fu Panda 4” is getting at the box office, the cash grab that Kung Fu Panda 5 looks to mean its announcement is surely on the horizon. But, for the sake of upholding a cinematic universe that pleases fans, Dreamworks should just let the franchise die before they make things even worse or devote time to producing a decent movie.

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