Sunday, 28 February 2016

Most Snubbed: 7 Movies I Thought Deserved Oscars

The Oscars are tonight, or last night, or last year. Whenever you're reading this, the Oscars happened. No matter what the outcome, it can't be denied that like every year, there are some things in it that just don't belong. This year however, I'm writing a post about it, because why am I gonna be studying when I could obsess over movies I have no stake in. To keep things simple, I'll put my picks for a just few of the categories because to be honest, I'm not really sure how to judge sound mixing. And I'm not sure I want to. Even though that year that Harry Potter lost to 'The Iron Lady' for best make up still stings.

This is not something I was expecting. In the last few years Johnny Depp had become a parody of himself who couldn't even be saved by his relationship with long time director/partner Tim Burton. He had played zany character after zany character, each more annoying than the last. Enter 'Black Mass' where Johnny Depp shows you just how good he can be, and becoming a character that's just as freaky, but in a way that disturbs, not delights.

Watch the movie and you'll understand why this picture still creeps me out. Original review here

Emily Blunt is a superstar. What I mean by that is, she's the kind of actor that immediately gives the film an air of credibility about it. She also has such versatility that she pretty much appeals to anyone for a myriad of roles. Her performance as Kate Macer, a character who was essentially Ethan Hawke in Training Day except under way worse conditions, was not only chilling for the more broader moments, but it had a subtlety to it that requires real acting chops. It's a wonder that she hasn't actually been nominated before this.

She really makes a good movie great. Original review here

It's difficult to actually pick one out of the group from 'Straight Outta Compton', simply because I'm not exactly sure how to discern a lead from a support in this ensemble cast. Because the narrative follows Corey Hawkins' Dr. Dre the most, I give this one to Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E as a supporting actor. The reason Mitchell gets the award over O'Shea Jackson Jr. who might as well have been young time travelling Ice Cube, is because Mitchell gave the most heart in his performance, as the script takes his character through the toughest moments in this raw, hard hitting biopic.

Jason Mitchell really stands out as Eazy-E. Easily. (Joke credit: Nicanor Charles Gordon) Original review here

The Rocky franchise is known for many things, but one thing that it couldn't have done without is the character of Adrian. Adrian was Rocky's rock and he couldn't be the champ without her. So it's a testament to Thompson's performance that the relationship between Bianca and Adonis far outweighs that of Rocky and Adrian. Tessa's character is well developed and has more than enough for her own narrative, but aside from that Tessa's performance is so immersive that she steals every scene she's in.

I don't care for spin offs, but a series about a hearing impaired musician from the mean streets of philly? I'd watch that in a heartbeat. Original review here

It's no secret that I'm an avid fan of 'The Walk'. I thought it was a once in a lifetime theatre experience when Philippe first steps out onto that wire between the twin towers. I of course, owe that moment to Robert Zemeckis, and his creative team who was able to utilise 3D technology in the most immersive fashion since Avatar. Not only is it a visual spectacle, but it's a script that is hopeful, inspirational, filled with whimsy, whilst still maintaining a sense of maturity about it. It is the most Spielberg movie to come out this year, and that's a year in which Spielberg got behind the camera.

The opening scene in 'Flight' is topped by the closing scene in 'The Walk'. Original review here

Full disclosure, you can switch out this category with the one immediately above it. Since both McQuarrie and Zemeckis worked on the screenplay for their respective films it seems only fair to say their jobs were pretty similar. 'Rogue Nation' deserves the mention however, because just as 'The Walk' had that one once in a lifetime moment, this movie had several that were very close to that point. You can easily pick any out, but the opera house scene will forever remain in my memory, as an extremely inventive scene, that took an immense amount of precise skill to pull off.

The development of this shot alone is simply mesmerizing. Original review here 

Okay so this is a bit of a cheat considering that Fury Road is actually nominated for best picture, but I didn't say the Academy was completely wrong. Just mostly. It seems there are some things so good that not even the group that rejected 'Straight Outta Compton' could deny. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is in fact one of those things. It's a movie I've watched several times since it's release and one that I think I will find myself regularly revisiting. It speaks to the baser parts of me that enjoy Ultrons and Hulks but also the high brow parts that enjoy performances with little to no dialogue. It does things that seem obvious yet at the same time inventive. It is truly the best picture of 2015, a year that was so very competitive.

Looking at the picture makes you want to rewatch it doesn't it. Original review here

That competition of course meant this list was not an easy one to curate. There were a number of films I thought fit for different categories. I thought 'Straight Outta Compton' would've worked for any one of these categories, except those involving actresses, and my soft spot for 'The Walk' almost made me give it the best picture, the best director, and every award involving a behind the scenes creative decision. I thought 'Southpaw' was a film with some questionable story beats but with top notch acting and even 'Star Wars' deserved some academy love.

Then of course there were so many movies I didn't get to see, like 'Spotlight', 'The Hateful Eight', 'Concussion', 'Slow West'. Movies that may very well replace some of my picks on this list. What I'm saying is, I recognize the utility in the Academy Awards. Many times I've looked to the winners or nominees of years past as a barometer from which to make a quality selection. However, if consistently running this blog has taught me anything it's that, yeah it's good to have a place to go, to know what's worth your time, but sometimes a movie is so good and gets little to no praise by the Academy. A movie isn't bad because they didn't pick it, it just...wasn't asked to the dance. You never know, it might be the prettiest person who wasn't even at the ball.

Thanks for reading and if you want to hear the predictions for movies that were ACTUALLY nominated, you can listen to Take 4 talk about that here. Be sure to check us next Sunday as we recap the Oscar ceremony and see if we were even close to right.
Also, here's a podcast about the movies that the Oscars apparently is gonna be ignoring from now on:

Monday, 15 February 2016

Impertinent Perception #3: Greed Is Good (Sometimes)

What is art? This is a question for wise men with skinny arms, and not one which I'm going to definitively answer in this blog post but typically, people think of art as a form of pure expression. Bringing across an idea to an audience, so that they can accept it, reject it, or interpret it in their own fashion. Somewhere along the line, art became muddled, and artists noticed that creating something which attracted a lot of people was profitable. Audiences became markets and people became patrons. Of course, this meant that the art was no longer pure, something to be packaged and sold for a dollar rather than the artist's real emotions. However, I'm not entirely convinced that finance is the root of all evil.

Try not to imagine this as you picture an out of touch studio executive.

But Damian, you ask, surely you're not suggesting that a movie can be good when it's made purely for the sake of money? Well sure that might not sound like a recipe for fine art, but of course that all depends on the artist. Yes, big budget movie studios these days are more interested in known properties than anything else, making it difficult for artists to thrive in such a competitive environment. The idea being, a known property has an audience already attached to it and has less work to do to convince them to go to the theatre and is low risk with high reward, with an unknown artist's screenplay being the exact opposite. But just because it's not original, doesn't mean it's devoid of creativity.

A good example of this is Marvel Studios and their cinematic universe. Marvel saved the superhero genre after a number of mediocre films in the mid 2000s that reeked of studio interference, with decisions that seemed to be completely unrelated to the good of the film. Each of their connected films has a director that most called a big risk, like Joss Whedon who had done only one other feature film before Avengers, or James Gunn is the phrase "left field" personified. Both of the Marvel films directed by this pair were commercially and critically successful.

'Weird & Weirder' Coming soon to a theatre near you.

Then there's of course the merchandising aspect, where studios make decisions based on how easily they can sell toys and such to kids. The biggest sinner in this department is Star Wars, which has a merchandising value of 17 billion, more than double what it makes at the box office. This isn't really a problem per se until you get a character like Captain Phasma. She is in 'The Force Awakens' for all of 8 minutes, does nothing, but exists because she's a shiny stormtrooper with a cape and that's a thing to collect. That's Star Wars though which is known for being derivative, unlike the original creative geniuses at Pixar, who made as many Toy Story and Cars films because...they sell a lot of Toy Story and Cars toys. Though there you have the good and the bad. Toy Story has maintained it's quality and has told meaningful stories despite the soulless motivation. Cars has given us Larry the Cable Guy as a tow truck. 

Iron Man 3 actually is a case of both good and bad. In that movie Tony Stark has not one, but 36 new Iron Man suits, all because they wanted to sell as many figures as possible. It works because after the events of 'The Avengers' it made sense for the character to need to have a contingency for every possible situation, and helped his arc for the overall franchise, as a constant innovator. That's why he has a new suit in every film, because he's always thinking and because they need a new toy on the shelves.  It doesn't work, because in re watching Iron Man 3, in the earlier scenes you can't help but think why Tony doesn't call his army of suits to help him when his house is attacked by the Mandarin.

Watch this to see what I'm talking about

What I'm trying to say is, yes there are times when a big budget property is just a product and is made based on the name alone to sell tickets to and sell toys, with no artistic merit, but there are also times when the financial side of things can help out the creative process. For a prime example, look no further than 'Deadpool'. On the face of it, that film looks to be made entirely in a creative vacuum with no interference from the studio. It even makes jabs at the studio itself within the movie, and there was even a moment during production when the already low budget was cut down by 7 million dollars. But remember how tight that movie felt? Well paced, focused, fat trimmed? That was because under budgetary constraints, the filmmakers were forced to use what really worked and realised the things that didn't. Compare that to $120 million on Fant4stic and the joy that film turned out to be. It's not binary. Sometimes the two can work in tandem.

Thanks for reading. You can leave a comment with your thoughts below and if you want to know my thoughts on 'Deadpool' you can read and listen to them here. (It's pretty good).

Friday, 12 February 2016

'Deadpool' Review (2016): Stupid Good

This movie shouldn't exist. It just shouldn't. It's based off a character whose cinematic debut was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, one of the worst reviewed comic book movies of all time. Typically not a good resume, but when you couple that with the fact that the director's previous directing is a pair of short films and some visual effects work, this film does not have the parts that make up a typical success. Then there's of course the lead, Ryan Reynolds, who hasn't really owned a character since Wilder, and who seems to be superhero movie poison, as his last few attempts at the genre have resulted in rounding out that list of worst reviewed comic book movies. Still though, it's not uncommon for studios to take a chance on a name character, especially if there's an audience for it, but it's not a surprise that this movie got made, it's a surprise that it's really this good.

Really good. No seriously. 

So what is 'Deadpool'?  Well, actually, the movie is more about who Deadpool is as a character. Whereas most superhero films feature stories about characters who wear bright costumes as symbol of truth, justice and the American way,  Deadpool is simply put, a different type of superhero. I hesitate to tell you more about the character, or about the plot of the movie itself, because I truly believe that it's something that's best experienced blindly. All you need to know is that this is a superhero movie, but not one like something you've seen before.

That said, a lot of the stuff in 'Deadpool' feels like the stuff you'd see in a superhero movie. It's very much an origin story with familiar beats. Deadpool has his motivation for becoming a superhero, a love interest, a best friend, and a sneering British villain. Based on the elements alone, the film sounds like it's run of the mill but that's actually to the movie's advantage. The humour in 'Deadpool' is very subversive at times, bordering on meta. It's making a commentary on superhero movies while still very much being one. For me, I usually despise movies like this, because they end up committing the same sins they condemn. 'Deadpool' actually is one of the few films that I thought struck a great balance between making fun of movies, while still being a movie.

'Deadpool' both owns and admits it's stupidity.

Part of that is due to how balanced 'Deadpool' feels. The tone of the movie is very much light. It's a film that has so many jokes in a single scene that it's easy to lose count by the halfway point. However, what most people should probably know is that Deadpool is a movie that is also very dark. There are scenes of torture, and while they're brief, they are quite intense and definitely gave the movie a sense of tragedy. It was shocking at first, but all it did was make me more invested in the story.

The cast of the movie is very good. Deadpool feels like the character Ryan Reynolds was born to play. TJ Miller plays Weasel, the best friend and manager of the bar of mercenaries that Deadpool frequents. He and Reynolds' banter in the movie feels like improv at it's best, making their relationship feel believable. Morena Baccarin plays Vanessa, the love interest of Deadpool, who grounds him and gives the character, who seems to care about nothing, some sense of dimension. There's also Ed Skrein whose villainous Ajax creates a foil for Deadpool to conquer. Every character in it is there for a reason to flesh out Deadpool's character, which as I've said, is what the movie is all about.

Absolutely insane. 

I should mention that, Deadpool being a part of the X-Men universe, there was of course a few ties to those other films. The most egregious being Colossus, a character last seen in the second X-Men film. It actually works to the movies advantage. Just as every other character exists to push forward everything you need to know about Deadpool, Colossus is there to provide a direct representation of the superhero archetype that Deadpool is a detraction from. Deadpool is a mutant just like everyone else in the X-Men universe, and it does feel like a part of that same world, which is mostly thanks to how well Colossus works in the film.

I've actually been watching this for hours^

The script in this movie is just impressive. The rate at which jokes are dispensed, and how often they hit is not something you get very often. There are times when the movie will be very well thought out, with both referential humour and just genuinely clever stuff. Then it'll devolve into body gags and really cheesy stuff. What I'm saying is, Deadpool doesn't try to be more than what it is, which is an unpredictable, chaotic and irreverent stream of both cleverness coupled with utter stupidity.

That same zaniness is found in the action scenes, which, while the CG is not as polished as say the photo realism of Iron Man or Transformers, the action scenes are effective in that even though you can tell what you're seeing is fake, it has an element of outrageousness that still made me yell "OH S**T" when necessary.

That too.

Of all the movies to see this year, Deadpool was on my most anticipated list but it was nowhere near close to the top simply because, I underestimated it. How wrong I was. It's a film that will give the other blockbusters a run for their money and has a Guardians of the Galaxy air to it, being the weird little underrated movie that could. It's thoughtful, smart, humble. It's a love story, it's a horror story, it's a revenge flick. It's an ode to 90's hip hop even. It's so much more than it deserves to be. I really loved this movie and I'm already planning my next excursion to the theatre to go see it. I hope to see you there.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: Just go see it. Fine. 12/10. I said it was arbitrary.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or comments you can leave them down below. Also I have a podcast that releases a new episode every Sunday. Here's the audio review for Deadpool:

Sunday, 7 February 2016

'The Big Short' Review (2015): Honest Con

When it comes to Biopics, the underlying conceit is, because it’s a true story, that makes it matter more. There’s a genuine atmosphere that comes with them that makes audiences all the more invested in the narrative. All the work that a piece of fiction has to do to sell itself to an audience is pretty much cut in half with a biopic, since the world we’re seeing is the world we’re in. However, this automatic authenticity might be good for creating tension, but sometimes, it’s a bit disconcerting to know that the things that are happening on screen that seem larger than life, actually happened.

That perfectly describes the discomfort I had watching ‘The Big Short’. Based on the true story of the financial crisis of 2008, ‘The Big Short’ chronicles not just what happened, but follows the lives of a few good men who had the fortune to realize what was happening when it was already too late to stop it. So what did these men do when they were gifted with the knowledge of the oncoming economic turmoil? They took everything they had and made a bet against the then undefeated housing market, and thus “shorted” the US economy.

Cue the "So that's why they called it that."

You might think it’s impossible to root for anyone who would seek to profit off of the misery of millions, and usually you’d be right, but not this time. Instead, ‘The Big Short’ does the brilliant thing of not trying to rationalize the decision, but simply shows it as it was. There never comes a point where the characters are presented as anything other than what they are, which is, simply put, opportunists. With that kind of clear cut honesty, the characters in a way become respectable, which is a point the movie itself makes. Either that or I’m just the worst and you’re a way better person than I am.

I didn't

The honesty in which the character motivations are presented can also be found with the details of the film. Typically, I expect that biopics or “true stories” take some liberty with the details just for the sake of telling a more cohesive narrative that works for a film adaptation. ‘The Big Short’ is probably the only film that I felt like I could take everything that happened as gospel. This is because when ‘The Big Short’ IS taking liberty with the truth, it lets you know. Characters will turn to the camera and say “Okay so what really happened was-”. On the flip side, when something seems too perfect to be true, a character will go “No really, that happened.”and since these characters have been presented so honestly, you can’t help but take their word for it. It makes any scene where that 4th wall clarification doesn’t happen feel like you can set your skeptic senses to 0.

I have to mention that this movie makes Christian Bale, the man who played Batman, seem like the most socially inept man on the planet. He plays Michael Burry, the man who actually uncovered the information that lit the fuse that was this movie’s narrative, but whose most fascinating aspect comes not from what he did, but rather, who he was. Typically, a movie like this wouldn’t give too much of a damn about what makes these characters tick. It would be perfectly acceptable for these characters to be their professions and nothing else. The movie would do just as good a job with telling the story of what happened. Instead, the movie tells you a little bit about these men, which makes the story all that more engaging.

The other characters in the film are all played fantastically by their actors. Steve Carrell actually has the best role in the film as the hyper angry financier who stopped believing in the system long before there was any evidence to suggest so. Ryan Gosling is the other major character in the film who is pretty much the id of the movie, being a character so transparently sleazy it’s respectable. Even the actors on screen for a single scene like Melissa Leo and Karen Gillian make an impression, but not in the way in which names that big can distract from a narrative, but in a way that actors that big can make a movie feel lived in.

The actors make the movie rather than distract from it.

When it comes to the actually telling of the story, the movie takes a page from the movie ‘Moneyball’. Just like that movie, ‘The Big Short’ has a dictionary full of financial jargon that sounds like gibberish to Joe Q. Popcorn, but for me, even though I didn’t understand most of what was said, I got the general gist of the stakes. It’s not the easiest thing to follow, but once you do, the movie moves at such an energetic pace that you can’t help but feel the sense of urgency the film is trying to portray.

Director Adam Mckay is known for his comedic background and for a movie about the financial meltdown that led to a spike in unemployment and homelessness, it’s freaking funny man. In a way, that’s not as far fetched as it sounds. Comedy = Tragedy + Time and the absurdity of the story of a bunch of guys making money off the failure of a system that was never in a million years supposed to fail, sounds like a joke. That being said, there are moments when the characters are faced with the reality of what happens if their bet is successful, and Mckay is successful in balancing these more heartfelt moments.

Yeah, the guy who made 'Step Brothers'

‘The Big Short’ simply put is a con movie that doesn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes. I can see this movie garnering comparisons to ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, with the tone and the subject matter being so similar, but what ‘The Big Short’does better, is gave me a story I feel like I needed to hear. It never tries to shy away from the seriousness of the thing that happened, yet somehow maintains its sense of comedy. This movie never tries to dumb anything down to you, the dialogue alone makes that clear. It treated me like an adult but never stopped feeling like a really cool movie.

A.N.R = 9.4/10

Thanks for reading and if you'd like to tell me what you thought of the movie you can leave a comment below. Also I have a podcast called Take 4, with new episodes every Sunday. Here's an episode we did on biopics:

Monday, 1 February 2016

Impertinent Perception #2: Science Is Cool Now

From the dawn of cinema, science has always been a part of the film industry. Whether it be for the technology it takes to make a movie, or as a part of the narrative structure, especially in the world of fiction. Mostly, stories take place in a world that is different from our own, as part of the escapism of cinema. Science pushes that idea in movies and helps with world building, establishing the mythology of the movies we watch. The most obvious example of this is in science fiction movies, but apart from that, science can be swapped out for shows of intelligence by specific characters.

Yet despite the useful role that science plays in the movies we enjoy, it's nevertheless subjected to  mockery. The main character, the one we follow, is always a man or woman who doesn't understand the things that generated the conflict, makes fun of it, but is still the best person to solve the problem because of their "destiny". It's easy to see why this is though, the main character is us. By and large filmmakers want their product to appeal to as many people as possible, and in order to do that, the safe bet is to write a character the audience can relate to. It's why Hermione was relegated to know it all brat and Harry was the star of the show.

And she knows it too. 

In the eyes of the filmmaker, the average viewer isn't smart enough to understand the complex ideas that the scientist does, and so even though he has the exact answer to the problem faced by our hero, he has to suffer being told to "SPEAK ENGLISH" when plainly explaining the facts of the fiction. There's a scene in 'Sky High' that exemplifies this. Main character Will Stronghold has discovered his power of super strength, when he comes across fellow superperson Gwen Grayson. Gwen is a technopath which means she has the ability to manipulate sophisticated technology to make it do...well whatever she wants. Will responds "I punch stuff" and his professor says "And he'll be the one on the cereal boxes", because punching stuff real good appeals more than de facto magic by way of science.

The impertinent perception though, is that this might be changing. Rather than being relegated to a secondary character, bordering on a plot device, the scientist has become something of a modern day hero archetype. On the big screen, there's been a heavy emphasis on science in the last few years. In 2013 there was Gravity, which saw Sandra Bullock as a reluctant astronaut trapped in deep space. In 2014 there was Interstellar, which had Matthew McConaughey and co as astronauts trying to find a suitable replacement for Earth. Each year, the role of the scientist gets more and more sophisticated. In 'Gravity', her smarts were there, but she was also driven by the ghost of George Clooney and the memory of her dead daughter. In 'Interstellar' Cooper and Brand had brilliant methodology, but everything sort of boiled down to love being the strongest force in the universe. Both times there was something of a pseudo science explanation that led to the hero's success. This is in no means inexcusable storytelling, but for movies which touted themselves as being "Hard science" it was impossible not be let down.

Close, but no space cigar.

Enter 'The Martian' in which Matt Damon survives being marooned on Mars by having to science harder than any man has ever scienced in the history of science. There's no mention of his family back home, he doesn't have visions in the Martian desert that point him in the right direction. He survives on his wit and his wit alone. Not only that, but the film revels in showing you how it's done. The movie celebrates the taking of a problem and finding a way to solve it. It's actually explained to you rather than immediately shut down as gibberish by a block headed main character.

More popular fiction has done this as well. In this age where superhero cinema has dominated the silver screen, one of the most popular characters of the last 10 years is Iron Man, or more specifically Tony Stark. Here's a man whose entire existence hinges on his ability to problem solve. Sure there's the science of making the Iron Man suit itself, but there's also the fact that Tony Stark in almost every dangerous situation he's in, has to act with the improvisational problem solving of a scientific mind. Yes, people go to see Robert Downey Jr. play a rich asshole, but he's only that way because of his arrogance. Such arrogance comes from a realization that he's so smart that he doesn't have to take shit from anybody. Compare that with just 10 years ago when the most popular superhero on the big screen was a kid who wore his intelligence like a badge of shame, and how much that changed in the reboot.

This may be the saddest picture in the world.

It's not just movies either. One of the more popular shows on television right now is 'The Flash'. In it, Barry Allen and friends fight a villain of the week, each presenting their own particular brand of obstacle. This isn't new for a superhero type story, but typically, the hero is given a weapon or some sort of artifact to help him save the day, which the hero will make a quip about not understanding how it works, they just know it works. On 'The Flash' however, every villain is always taken from a scientific point of view. Everyone on the show is a scientist and every week they face the problem, come up with a solution, and carry that out, with SCIENCE. It's not only interesting but it gives a sense of realism to the show, as impossible things are explained within the realm of our own reality. The fiction for our science.

There's real world science too, like in shows like Silicon Valley and Halt and Catch Fire. Both are shows about coders that shows them as more than what the film industry has typically portrayed them as. The scientist can actually be a person now. Of course I can't talk about science television without mentioning 'Breaking Bad'. For 5 seasons, Walter White entertained viewers by becoming a bad ass, scarface-like drug kingpin, not through the tired acts of hyper violence, but through the beauty of the thought process. This was no more apparent, as the scene in which Walter escapes certain death by setting off an explosion he had previously disguised as crystal meth.

Maybe it's because we're becoming a more intelligent species, or maybe it's because we face global problems that only science can solve. Whatever the reason, filmmakers are taking more and more risks with audiences and allowing us to be the judge of what we can comprehend. It's refreshing to see intelligent thought celebrated, and made accessible, because in this world where life and art are self imitating, the nerdy kid who might be the thinker who saves humanity from certain doom, might be better off being encouraged by characters who had just as much development and importance as the jock, but just had a clue about what the hell they were doing.

Thanks for reading and if you have any thoughts on this, you can leave a comment below. Aside from that, I have a podcast with new episodes every Sunday. I couldn't find an episode that related to this article though's the one where we gave Oscar predictions:

'Kung Fu Panda 3' Review (2016): Third Time's a Charmin'

When it comes to trilogies, the third film is usually the worst one. It's touted as the satisfying finale to the epic saga of the films before it, but it never lives up to those resolutory expectations. Instead what you get is a film that buckles under the weight of the stories that came before it, and a franchise that regardless of its stellar beginning and middle chapters, is remembered half heartedly because of a botched finale. There are those trilogies that are more episodic, with each iteration serving as more of development for characters rather than stories, but for those, the third film is the one where the well seems to run dry in the idea department.

Pictured: The home of Blade Trinity and Terminator 3. Bet you thought there'd be a third movie here didn't you. 

Kung Fu Panda 3 however joins that little list of franchises that not only has a satisfying third film but in my book, maintained its quality in each movie. This time around Po and the Furious Five are back to fight the evildoer known as Kai, a spirit warrior going around collecting the chi of the Kung Fu masters of China. Kung Fu Masters need Chi to do Kung Fu so that's understandably bad. Po must defeat the new villain, while balancing his new role of Dojo Master, and working on those deep seeded daddy issues from the 1st and 2nd movie. To do so Po must go on a journey of self discovery and find out if he truly is worthy of the title bestowed upon him 2 movies ago.

It's not as lifetimey as you might think. Or maybe it's waaaaay more lifetimey than you think. I don't watch lifetime.

Kung Fu Panda 3's biggest sin is perhaps its tried formula. It's very much the same story as the first and second film. Po has to go on a journey that is interrupted by the actions of a formidable foe. The formula is at it's best however, as I found the movie surprisingly able to find new ways to tell the same old story. New additions to the cast like Bryan Cranston as Po's long lost father and JK Simmons as the villainous Kai, keep the film feeling fresh as both do a stellar job with the new characters.

The character work is actually very clever in the movie. The new characters especially don't feel tacked on for the sake of selling toys, and have some thought behind them. Kai is a villain who has returned from the spirit world where he spent the last 500 years. His whole thing is getting angry that no one remembers anything about him because...well he existed 500 years ago, and people get on with their lives. Po's dad Li Shen comes with all the baggage of having never known his son, and the relationship between he and Po makes for an engaging emotional core of the movie, which is more than a movie called Kung Fu Panda deserves, but what the series it's become known for.

The old cast is good. Jack Black and company do the same thing they've been doing, which is not a bad job at all. What the movie does well is providing good character moments across the board that doesn't make the audience question the point of any of them. As Po discovers his Panda heritage with his dear old dad, he's introduced to his long lost list panda relatives. They're all identified by a specific attribute that doubles as a joke making the pandas are distinguishable enough and not feeling like the dwarves in the Hobbit.

Go ahead. Name 5 that aren't Thorin.

The character work, works, as well as the action does, though I was only disappointed in that there was so little of it. When the stuff is on the screen however, it shows the benefit animation brings to the table. It's fluid, fast paced and oh so satisfying. Live action stuff is good, but there's always the limitation of what we the viewer are willing to believe is real. The skill is in maintaining the illusion of a 50 foot leap in the air, realistically speaking. CGI helps, but eventually, most live action scenes as bombastic as the ones seen in this movie, tend to verge on being hard to swallow. In this film the action scenes are cleverly thought out and riveting, and you never spend time questioning the possibility of them, because the panda is talking to the tiger.

The other thing I liked about the movie is just how funny it is. Previously I've found the Kung Fu Panda films to have...serviceable humour, with the crux of the joke a lot of the time being how fat and lazy Po is. Thankfully the series has refrained from the use of fart jokes thus far. It was surprising to me the rate at which the script dispensed with jokes, and how many of them hit. Going into the movie I expected slick action, more heart than it deserves and a few jokes here and there that worked. My expectations were surpassed in this regard, as I laughed loudly and heartily. I was like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.

Minus the cigar.

I suppose that's where it boils down to is, this movie is very much more of the same, albeit with a few interesting ideas thrown in, but essentially what you've seen is what you get. The test is whether or not what you've seen has been enjoyed thus far. For me, the person writing this review, I've liked the series, and thought it's underrated as it doesn't get the same praise that other animated films get. It's not gonna change any minds, but for my money it did it's job well, and that's to keep me entertained.

A.N.R = 8.8/10

Thanks for reading and you can leave your thoughts on the movie in the comments below. I also have a podcast called Take 4 that releases episodes on Sundays. Here's an episode we did on the best and worst movie trilogies of all time.