As another trilogy ends, we find ourselves trapped in an endless cycle of profitability. Even though the final films have hardly lived up to their predecessors’ quality, we still put down money to see how it all ends encouraging studios to put out even more increasingly-disappointing sequels. Adding to the pack of insufficient pseudo-finales, Shrek the Third takes audiences back to Far, Far Away on another pop culture-drenched journey.
It’s not hard to imagine that a series of films like Shrek would eventually run out of fairy tales to parody. So, they’ve now taken to encroaching on the territory of legends. Arthurian legend makes perfect since because it’s recognizable by virtually anyone. Fewer people are familiar with Beowulf and there would be trademark issues if tackling Lord of the Rings.
King Harold (John Cleese) is dying. He wants his son-in-law Shrek (Mike Myers) to be ruler but Shrek doesn’t want the honor. After having filled in for the sick king for some time, he has learned that the glitter and gloss of the monarchy is not his cup of sludge. He asks whether there is another potential heir and he’s told of a young man named Arthur who is the only who remains.
Thus, Shrek goes on his journey to find the wayward heir. Meanwhile, desperate to get away from his dinner theater life, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) concocts a scheme with the villains of the world to take over the kingdom and kill Shrek once and for all.
The film then proceeds down very familiar territory with plenty of loose references to pop culture mixed with puns on what few fairy tales they haven’t already lampooned. The producers would have been chastised for allowing the use of old jokes, but nothing would happen if the film felt identical to previous drafts.
The vocal performances are banal and have grown intensely tedious. Even adding Justin Timberlake as the teenage Arthur proved an abject failure. We’ve grown so used to these characters that nothing inspires us anymore and even when Julie Andrews gives the film a needed kick towards the end, it’s not enough to rescue such weak voice work.
The film’s very loose plot does more to remind us of Shrek 2’s flaws than it does of the series’ strengths. Thankfully, the scenes that bypass the plot for sheer entertainment often rescue it from its own hollow idealism. Fiona should have been Queen (after all, by true monarchical standards, she’s the natural descendent of the king and would ascend before anyone else) and perhaps we might have been saved from this laughable (not in a good way) plot.
There are a few gems to be found within the rubble including the scene where the Princesses escape from prison and assault the castle. Those delightful moments save the film from collapsing entirely, but not even the trailer-stolen comic successes can do a great deal of good.
When the final credits roll and we’re treated to more Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) dancing and singing we realize that somewhere earlier in the film, it jumped the shark (how a movie can perform a television maneuver, I’ll never understand). Perhaps the baby angle surrounding Fiona’s pregnancy revelation dealt the killing blow or perhaps it was the ludicrous use of “Live and Let Die” during the king’s funeral that did it in.
Regardless of what caused Shrek the Third’s ultimate failure, we can only hope that we won’t be subjected to a fourth installment.
-Wesley Lovell (May 26, 2007)