Kung Fu Panda 4 review: "Jack Black and Awkwafina are a fun pairing in a sprightly but unsurprising sequel"

 Kung-Fu Panda 4.
Kung-Fu Panda 4.

It’s been eight years since we last saw Po, the adorkable black-and-white bear with a penchant for martial arts, on the big screen. And it’s been 16 years since the franchise (one of DreamWorks Animation’s most resilient) debuted.

But despite finding Po at the peak of his spiritual mastery, and on the lookout for a new Dragon Warrior to succeed him, there’s no grand reinvention of the material here. Instead, this is an amiable retread of the series’ tried and trusted formula.

Fellow masters the Furious Five are absent this time, making way for a streamlined buddy pairing between Jack Black’s Po and corsac-fox thief Zhen (Awkwafina). Meanwhile, the new villain this time out is The Chameleon (an enjoyably menacing Viola Davis), who can absorb others' powers. Her ability to transform into formerly vanquished foes gives this fourquel a greatest-hits quality (though of the former baddies, only Ian McShane returns vocally).

Black and Awkwafina are as effortlessly funny as ever (and James Hong and Bryan Cranston are another good-value pairing as Po’s dads), while the somewhat conventional journey is never too far away from another zippily choreographed fight scene.

It never feels particularly different to what you’ve seen before, and doesn’t push any boundaries visually or narratively in the way its DWA stablemate Puss in Boots: The Last Wish did. That was a long-time-coming sequel that far exceeded expectations and interrogated its hero’s limits.

Kung Fu Panda 4 doesn’t have anywhere near that level of surprise up its sleeve, but comfortably delivers on the necessary physical comedy and cartoony martial arts in another breezy adventure.

Kung Fu Panda 4 is in US theaters on March 8 and in UK cinemas on March 28.

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