After the awful piece of shit that was Shrek The Third, it was with much trepidation last night did I hand over my twelve bucks and walk into the fourth and alleged final chapter in the series. The good news? It doesn't totally suck.
It's actually pretty decent. The alternate reality and time paradox angles play host to a number of interesting story ideas, effectively turning a few of the series' conventions on its head. The idea that Shrek needs to reacquaint himself with all the characters gives the series a much needed reboot in the butt, and there's a moment or two (especially toward the end) where you think, "Oh wow, is this how it's really going to play out?" It's basically "It's A Wonderful Life", set forth in Far Far Away.
With that said, it's still a very average film. There's little in the way of standout memorable sequences, certainly not on the level of the Dragon's Keep rescue from the first or the big castle siege/ballroom dance number at the end of the second. Rumpelstiltskin falls squarely third in the line of Shrek villains after Farquaad and Fairy Godmother, but he's at least more interesting than Prince Charming. He's got a devious, weasel-like personality that works for his character, as well as an underlying motive that's made clear early on. They really scaled back on the pop culture references and parodies this time, which I'm still deciding whether it was an improvement or a detriment. The favor against them will undoubtedly make for a more timeless story, but in the process, a lot of the edge that made this series work is robbed, resulting in a far more run-of-the-mill film.
The visual look hasn't changed much, but one can definitely discern some notable technical improvements in the animation rendering. This becomes obvious when they do a montage of the best sequences from all four movies throughout the end credits. As for the music, with the exception of the Shrek main theme peppered in a few places, Gregson-Williams' score is a blandly uninspired affair. Even the licensed stuff they used this time around neither matches the scenes nor sticks out in the mind.
I rarely ever do a ranking style like this, but I'm fairly confident in where I stand with these films:
Shrek 2 >>> Shrek 1 >>>> Shrek 4 >>>>>> Shrek 3
So, yeah. Forever doesn't disappoint, but it doesn't really impress either. If reaching middling status has become the franchise's new aim, then I believe it's time to put this puppy to rest.