Chronicle Exclusive: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Early Review

The "Kung Fu Panda" series is iconic, and the fourth installment definitely scratches the itch with great comedy, action and heart. Yet, it fails to meet the expectations set by its predecessors.

I didn't think I would get to watch a new "Kung Fu Panda" movie after "Kung Fu Panda 3" concluded the trilogy in 2016. Over the course of the trilogy, we’ve seen Po (the titular Kung Fu Panda) evolve and become the dragon warrior, while fending off all sorts of villains and learning more about himself in the process. In 2022, "Kung Fu Panda 4" was announced, reviving the series. We were treated to a trailer in 2023. Now, in 2024, audiences get to enjoy the film, and I have mixed emotions.

The film has embraced the Marvel comedy style. It's packed full of witty quips and is heavy on sarcasm and irony. This “Marvel-esque” style of humor really works well with the main characters: series regular Po and newcomer Zheng (the Fox). The movie also uses tropes very well by setting up common tropes before subverting and mocking them in a way that made me chuckle. The humor also sets up some great recurring jokes — such as the Dragon Warrior being something very few people have heard of — that are revisited ingeniously to bring the laughs. I do think the humor is a little overbearing sometimes, to the point where it can ruin the gravity of more serious moments in the film.

Something the film really struggles with is pacing. The opening of the film is rapid, introducing or reintroducing characters and setting up the villain. Then, the rising action drags on and on, making for a very boring middle section. This part takes up a large portion of screen time to develop the characters, get them to where they need to be and establish the stakes. The climax is a plot twist followed by reconciliation, a few action scenes and a quick ending. The climax and following parts are so quick and seem rather hurried for no reason other than to make the film less than an hour and a half.

The plot itself was among the weaker of the franchise. The villain is an extremely poor character with barely any screen time or character development. Their motivation or goals were also not really elucidated either. The protagonist, Po, also seems to have lost a lot of the growth and character development we'd seen over the last three films, which harms the plot’s sense of continuity (which I will say vaguely to avoid spoilers). The introduction of magic into Po’s world is also done poorly, as it is never built upon or explored, and it is unclear to the audience what this magic can and can’t do. 

Although there were some twists and turns, the overall film felt clichéd and predictable. I would have loved to see a better final fight, as it felt both short and underwhelming, considering the build-up.

Something the film delivers on is the presentation. The animation is gorgeous, with elaborate moving parts and stunning action sequences. I love the aesthetic of the characters, and the voice acting is top-tier. The music used in the film is also fantastic, and the sound is well-mixed with dialogue. Some of the transitions between scenes were incredibly smooth (people in my theater audibly gasped) and well-executed. The action sequences were mostly great, but I wish there were more. The previous films had such great fight scenes that I missed in this one.

I love the trope of Po's biological and real dad acting like a queer couple. It introduces the idea of two dads in the most kid-friendly way possible. This also builds on Po’s great relationships with his adopted dad and biological dad, bringing attention to non-conventional family structures.

Overall, the film is an okay kids' movie. It's very funny and will definitely deliver a palatable and clichéd story with some great visuals, acting and sound. I enjoyed my first watch for the thrill of seeing characters I loved to come back to the big screen, but I do not think I could watch the film again. The plot just wasn't there, and the film's characters, limited number of action sequences and poor world-building left me slightly disappointed.

Even still, I recommend watching the film once. For nostalgia.

Arnav Jindal | Culture Editor

Arnav Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and culture editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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