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Fourth ‘Panda’ film is a kung flop

Screenshot from Kung Fu Panda 4 trailer | Universal Pictures

After an eight-year gap, “Kung Fu Panda 4” was released in theaters on March 8. Considering the production time, fans held grand expectations of the film. However, by the end of the movie, it was achingly mediocre in contrast to its previous installments, making it an underwhelming watch.

The Furious Five were also missing from the action, despite being crucial characters since the franchise’s inception. Without them, the movie feels incomplete and has wasted the opportunity to dive further into their characters.

Early in the film, dark and glowing colors combined with the prison setting set up a wicked feeling to introduce the antagonist to the audience. With glowing blue eyes, the Chameleon shapeshifts into Tai Lung, the antagonist of the first film. The setting switches over to Po’s whereabouts, showing him engaged in combat. 

It’s not long before Master Shifu, headmaster of the Jade Palace, unexpectedly pulls Po aside, telling him he must find a successor, which ends up being the film’s premise. While the humor and fight scenes live up to the standards of the previous movies, the plot and character development feel underdeveloped.

Considering Po’s youth and title as the sole Dragon Warrior, there’s no sense of urgency toward Po’s need to find a successor. For the same reason, it makes no sense as to why he’s expected to offer wisdom and guidance, which are shown to be traits that come with age as depicted by Grand Master Oogway from the first film. 

The lack of a detailed backstory for the Chameleon makes it difficult to sympathize with her and understand her motives. The movie missed the opportunity to provide visuals that illustrate the internal struggle that the villain faced after being denied learning the art of kung fu. Considering that she picked up sorcery instead, it leaves the audience puzzled as to why she did not use it by some means to learn the martial art.

On the contrary, Zhen, a fox and former thief, is likable for the reasons the Chameleon is not. However, she lacks distinguishing characteristics that highlight her potential to become the next Dragon Warrior, which degrades the title of the position. It’s frustrating to think that an uninteresting supporting character like Zhen is expected to inherit the title in the future.

Despite improving his kung fu skills throughout his journey, Po’s unique power moves did not dominate the fight scenes. Instead, he was beaten up in places where he could have easily defeated the villain, erasing character development and ability. While there was potential to see Po use Oogway’s staff, it was wasted.

Li Shan and Mr. Ping, Po’s biological and adoptive fathers, are respectively seen looking out for their son out of fear. While it’s fun to see their bond deepen, it’s not essential to the plot.

Regardless of its faults, “Kung Fu Panda 4” is still enjoyable with its unique writing and lovable characters. The animation and fight scenes remained impressive as always.

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