"What's that Willy, you're in danger and it's from a bunch of illegal whalers" that may sound like I'm taking the mick but that is what "Free Willy 3: The Rescue" descends to, humanizing Willy so much that this Whale not only can understand humans but humans can also understand Willy. It goes too far and in many ways turns Willy into a Lassie style character as we pick up the story of Jesse and Willy. In fairness "Free Willy 3" is no worse that "Free Willy 2" but it once more feels like a very contrived storyline pieced together because they could still wring a bit more profit out of the "Free Willy" series before audiences had enough.
Having reunited with Randolph (August Schellenberg) to work aboard a whale research trip, Jesse (Jason James Richter) is as happy as ever when he catches up with his old friend Willy and when they discover that Willy's about to become a dad everything seems just perfect. But the happiness is shattered when they learn that someone is doing a spot of illegal whaling as they spot a harpoon in Willy's tail. Suspecting captain John Wesley (Patrick Kilpatrick) and his trawler of being behind the whaling Jesse and Randolph put themselves in danger to save their old friend Willy and his Orca family.
In a way "Free Willy 3" is very similar to "Free Willy 2" with Jesse and Randolph coming to Willy's rescue as they both work on a boat researching/ tracking Orca. And why they come to his rescue is that they discover that the Orca's are being hunted and suspect a trawler masquerading as a Salmon fishing boat of the crime. The thing is that for well over half of the movie Willy isn't really in trouble and so we have the fun of Jesse reuniting with him as researcher Drew Halbert looks impressed out how Jesse can get Willy to obey him. Once, when this was set in the Marina it was quite believable, but now with Willy having been free for so long it feels wrong especially as the level of communication between Jesse and Willy almost borders on talking to each other.
Anyway all the fun of Jesse and Willy out of the way and then we get the danger and the trawler which is illegally killing Whales. To be honest it's not that exciting, oh Jesse sneaks aboard the trawler to try and find proof, Randolph ends up in one of the lamest fist fights I've ever seen and the son of the boats Captain is befriended by Jesse but it's shockingly dull. So when we do get the big ending, having built up the danger and put Willy in peril it feels strangely boring and mundane. And it doesn't help that the amount of action feels weaker, as if budget limitations had restricted how much excitement could be delivered.
To be honest it's not all bad and there is plenty of brilliant cinematography as we watch not only Willy but other Whales swimming in their natural habitat. It means that whilst the storyline is disappointing "Free Willy 3" has a sort of visual appeal going on and whilst we do get some cliche shots as a sunset back lights Jesse it's still quite nice. And talking of Jesse, Jason James Richter does another fine job and grows the character nicely into this young man whose loyalty to Willy leads him to risking his own life. In fact one of the best things about all the "Free Willy" movies is watching the character of Jesse grow and as such Jason James Richter as an actor as well.
What this all boils down to is that "Free Willy 3" is very much on par with "Free Willy 2" with a storyline which feels contrived just so that a bit more money could be rung out of the franchise. It's by no means terrible but is very obvious with a storyline which sees Jesse and Randolph courting danger to help rescue Willy and other Orcas from an illegal whaler. And sadly where as "Free Willy 2" was exciting with an over the top ending "Free Willy 3" really struggles to deliver any excitement at all.