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'Kung Fu Panda 4' Review

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March 10, 2024
Tyler Banark
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As time has proved, it’s a risky choice for a franchise to leap beyond a trilogy and into a fourth entry. For every John Wick: Chapter 4, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; there is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Cyrstal Skull, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 4 falls more into the latter bucket by providing the expected stunning visuals, yet also displaying an overfamiliar story that signals a franchise running out of steam and bound to implode.

Kung Fu Panda 4’s biggest flaw is its script; penned by recurring writers Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, and newcomer Darren Lemke. While the three previous entries mixed plenty of laughs and memorable moments, there wasn’t a single laugh-out-loud moment here, not even for the younger members of the audience. It didn’t help that most of these attempted jokes are featured in a senseless plot.

Po has taken the next step in his journey by fulfilling the position of spiritual leader for the Valley of Peace. Because of this, he must step down as The Dragon Warrior and look to find a successor. As he does this, yet another power-hungry villain in The Chameleon (Viola Davis) threatens China by harnessing the powers of all of Po’s past villains. Tai Lung, Lord Shen, and General Kai all return, with Tai Lung being the only one in the spotlight since Ian McShane was the only original voice actor of the trio to come back. Also missing are Furious Five, with their absence being attributed to “other duties.”

Of course, Jack Black returns as Po, a character he never seems to take for granted. He’s up to his usual antics, which is enough since seeing Black do his thing is enough of an enjoyable time. Viola Davis’ inclusion in the franchise is great on paper, but it’s not as great in execution considering her character’s copied and pasted motivations. Although he’s not given much screentime, Dustin Hoffman still phones it in as Shifu, which also marks his first appearance in a studio film since 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).

Zimmer returns to the maestro’s corner, collaborating again with Steve Mazzaro. Although there are no outstanding pieces, the duo does provide an interestingly Eastern-sounding rendition of “Crazy Train” during a chase sequence. And that’s not the only cover song to be prominently featured, with Black and his band, Tenacious D, covering Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” during the end credits. It’s a better use of Black’s musical talent than “Peaches” from The Super Mario Bros Movie.

Kung Fu Panda 4 feels like a dishonor to the franchise, with almost every aspect being inferior to the previous entries. Even the DreamWorks opening credit logo lacked the personality it once had. From a franchise that has always been willing to take risks, this fourth outing is safe and forgettable. Audiences were wishing for more skadoosh, but they got more of a whimpering pow instead.

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