Tag Archives: C+


Grade: C+

If one panda brings in crowds, whether at a zoo or the multiplex, the more the merrier. That seems to be the philosophy behind “Kung Fu Panda 3,” a visually stunning but story-wise pretty threadbare entry in the popular series. It not only brings the animated franchise to trilogy level, but gives us not just one or two of the bears but a whole rollicking village of them. Some might well find that too much of a good thing.

The script by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger finds Po (again voiced by Jack Black) being advanced, beyond his abilities, as the so-called Dragon Warrior by his mentor Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). But he’s still unable to locate his chi, which he believes he can achieve only through inheritance from his own rare kind. Fortunately, his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston) shows up and invites him to the hidden mountain village where pandas have congregated after the disaster that befell their race, as the second installment recounted. Li’s arrival—and Po’s decision to leave with him in an effort to fulfill his destiny—upset Po’s biological father, goose restaurateur Ping (James Hong), who tags along and eventually makes peace with the situation, and with Li, as a means of helping their son.

Meanwhile Po’s mission to become all he can be is made more urgent with the entrance into the Real World of the malevolent Kai (J.K. Simmons), who has been systematically stealing the chi of the masters in the Spirit World, including that of the tortoise Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). Having accumulated such enormous power in the jade amulets he wears and can summon at will, he defeats all of Po’s friends—Shifu, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross)—and absorbs their powers as well. He then sets his sights on Po and the entire panda village.

Up to this point “Kung Fu Panda 3” has vacillated fairly equally between sumptuous but overextended fight sequences, staged with near-balletic precision and lots of visual pizzazz, and the more personal scenes involving Po, Li, Ping and the other pandas, like the dancing princess Mei Mei (Kate Hudson) who obviously has her eye on Po (Kate Hudson). With Kai’s arrival at panda village, however, it swings into full battle mode. Of course, the inevitable victory of good over evil will require more than martial-arts knowhow; a film of this sort can’t get by without recourse to extolling the virtues of family, community, teamwork and self-sacrifice. But for all its lip-service to such matters (or, in the case of Ping, who’s the most eloquent about them, beak-service), the movie really does devolve into somewhat of a martial-arts explosion, which frankly can’t get a mite tiresome before it’s all over, though the leavening of humor makes it go down more easily.

And it must be admitted that even when the fighting goes on, directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni keep things moving, and the voice work is excellent, with Black, Hong and newcomers Cranston and Hudson providing especially strong contributions. (The other members of the secondary cast, however, are reduced to little more than walk-ons, and some will miss the camaraderie that was so big a part of the earlier installments.)

All that would mean little, though, if it weren’t for the exceptional work of the DreamWorks animation team, who create a succession of widescreen images that are literally feasts for the eye, in ravishing colors. The 3D format, as usual, dulls the vividness of the visuals, but it also adds texture to them, making for a fairly equal trade-off.

The “Kung Fu Panda” series has never attained the quality of the best Pixar product, or of some other one-shot animated pictures of recent years. But its mixture of warmhearted comedy, slapstick and action have managed to entertain legions of younger viewers, and this latest installment won’t disappoint them. And uneven as it is, it certainly puts the other animated bear flick out there—the dreadful “Norm of the North”—to shame.


Grade: C+

Apparently an attempt to fashion a cooler, hipper version of “Star Wars” in advance of Disney’s restart of that Lucas franchise (it might be mistaken for the earlier adventures of Han Solo, without even an Obi-wan figure to lend it a touch of gravitas), Marvel’s latest superhero behemoth “Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of those movies that should actually be labeled as FFO—“For Fanboys Only”—except that being an efficiently made product of the Marvel Factory’s assembly line operation, its blend of explosive action and juvenile humor will probably appeal to a far wider part of today’s filmgoing public. It’s a completely vacuous reiteration of the “saving the universe” plot common to all these pictures, but audiences will no doubt eat up its non-stop mixture of CGI wizardry and puerile gags.

Based not on the original comic-book series of the late sixties and early seventies but the 2008 reboot, “Guardians” brings together a bunch of misfits—preening, jokey humanoid outlaw Peter Quill, aka “Starlord” (Chris Pratt); green-toned alien femme fatale Gamora (Zoe Saldana); burly, tattooed giant Drax (Dave Bautista); cynical, wise-cracking genetically modified raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and anthropomorphic tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)—to take on a powerful villain called Ronan (Lee Pace), who’s intent on destroying the planet Xandar, which is presided over by a female leader (Glenn Close).

The MacGuffin of the plot is an orb with mysterious destructive power. After a brief prologue in which we see the young Quill (Wyatt Oleff) witness the death of his mother and get abducted by an alien spaceship, we find him grown and entering a cave to secure the orb for his boss, the blue-tinted Ravager (i.e., outlaw) leader Yondu (Michael Rooker). After a battle with Ronan’s henchman Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Quill escapes. But he has no intention of handing over the orb to Yondu; he takes it to Xandar intending to fence it himself. That’s where he meets Gamora, Rocket and Groot. She wants to steal the orb; they’re bounty hunters who want to snatch Quill. Their confrontation leads them all to be arrested and sent to prison, where they encounter Drax, who has a personal grudge against Ronan and joins with them in escaping. Another encounter with Ronan, Korath and Gamora’s stepsister Nebula (Karen Gillan) puts them all in jeopardy, but eventually they—along with Yondu’s fleet—make their way to Xandar, where they mount a joint stand with the Xandarian defenders against Ronan, who by now has mastered the power of the orb.

This threadbare plot is nothing more than an excuse for a chain of splashy battle scenes, interrupted by lots of jocular bickering among the oddball crew. Much of the latter is provided by Cooper’s Rocket, who bad-mouths everybody but his buddy Groot (the tone of whose sole words he’s able to reinterpret), and especially Pratt’s Quill, a dude who takes little seriously and constantly grooves to the mix tape of ’70s pop tunes that’s the only link he possesses to his mother (as well as serving to score many of the movie’s set-pieces). There are points at which the picture tries for sentiment or poignancy—the prologue, for example, but also a few scenes in which characters are put in jeopardy or are apparently killed—but none of them has any real depth. And the material featuring Ronan and his ally Thanos (voiced by an uncredited Josh Brolin) is all too reminiscent of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” with the duo coming across like deep-voiced Skeletor wannabes.

The most crowd-pleasing “characters” are likely to be Rocket and Groot, who are marvels of CGI imaging and whom Cooper and Diesel voice with surprising point. Pratt seems to be doing a sort of homage to Captain Mal Reynolds of “Serenity,” which perhaps explains Nathan Fillion’s walk-on in the prison sequence. Saldana exhibits her customary athleticism but otherwise serves mostly as eye candy, and as Drax Bautista shows the sort of talent characteristic of most ex-wrestlers: he’s a hulking presence, and delivers his lines, laden with elevated vocabulary as a jocular counterpoint to his bulging physique, in a monotonous growl. But that’s what the part requires. Close suffers from the same problem that afflicted Natalie Portman in the second “Star Wars” trilogy—she’s too concerned with trying to keep her unsightly hairdo in place to act, except in the most generalized fashion. But John C. Reilly is able to add a few wry touches to his turn as a Xandar policeman and the scowling Rooker savors Yondu’s nastiness, both overshadowing Benicio Del Toro’s brief turn as a distinctly weird “collector” of unusual artifacts.

“Guardians” represents a very different thing from James Gunn’s previous movie, “Super,” which tried—even if unsuccessfully—to investigate the dark side of fanboydom and the damage it can lead to. By contrast this is a jokey, lighthearted, and ultimately inconsequential riff about another guy determined to be a famous hero. It’s been elaborately produced—though the settings devised by the effects team have a comic-book look, one can hardly fault the production design of Charles Wood or Ben Davis’ cinematography—and the visual effects, especially those involving Rocket and Groot, are smoothly integrated into the live-action material. What original music there is, once you factor in the pop tunes, is provided in pretty standard fashion by Tyler Bates, and one can be thankful to editors (Craig Wood, Fred Raskin and Hughes Winborne for the fact that for a Marvel superhero movie, this one comes in at a relatively trim two hours (even less if you skip the final credits).

The very empty-headedness of “Guardians of the Galaxy” will probably insure its enormous success, since many in the audience will be able to identify with it.