'Mulan' Review—Endless Wasted Potential

by Jonathan Sim 3 months ago in review

No spoilers!

'Mulan' Review—Endless Wasted Potential

For those of you keeping track, this is Disney's sixth live-action remake of an animated film in the last two years. Originality no longer concerns this company.

Niki Caro directs Mulan, an action drama that serves as a live-action remake of the 1998 animated film. The film once again tells the story of a young Chinese woman named Mulan, who disguises herself as a man and takes her father's place in the army to fight in a war.

Disney initially scheduled this film for a March release. However, it was pushed back multiple times due to the pandemic before they decided to release the movie on Disney+ for an extra $30 fee, which not many are happy about.

When it comes to Disney's live-action remakes, the fact that they are unnecessary needs not be said. They always manage to be inferior to their animated counterparts. Last year's The Lion King generally served as a risk-free shot-for-shot remake with none of the original's emotion.

Many were displeased with the creative choice to remove the songs and Eddie Murphy's iconic wise-cracking dragon, Mushu. However, I was all for these changes if it meant a more original take on the story with a few more risks; but while the film makes changes, this movie proves that change isn't always a good thing.

This film updates Mulan with a new perspective; notice how I said "new," not "fresh." Unlike The Lion King, this film changes a lot from its source material while retaining the same story beats that fans of the original movie expect to see.

Mulan is a film that makes much more sense as a live-action remake. It is devoid of realistic CGI talking animals and is instead Disney's take on a war film. While it removes the musical numbers, it replaces them with a few well-timed references to the original songs.

And while one would expect the removal of talking animals and soldiers breaking out into song to make the film more gritty and realistic, this live-action film introduces a new villain: a witch who can transform into flying birds. Yeah, there goes your realism right out of the gate.

While this film could have been a beautiful character drama filled with exciting action, it is endless wasted potential. The film skips over certain emotional moments which were powerful in the original movie, but merely forgotten in this film.

For example, the story hinges on Mulan taking her father's place in the war; this could not have been an easy decision because she could be executed if she is caught. But after a scene where a single tear falls down her face, the film cuts to a shot of Mulan decked out and ready to go.

Where is the emotion? Where is Jerry Goldsmith's hard-hitting musical score? None of it is there because the movie doesn't care to show us the moment's emotional weight. We don't get to see Mulan cut her hair, knowing that her life will change forever. The scene feels rushed.

Even though the film rushes through essential scenes, it is half an hour longer than the original animated film. It drags out the story with very forgettable scenes that lack the wit, the magic, and the charm of the original movie.

The characters are a disappointment. When we are first introduced to Ling, Yao, and Chien-Po in the animated film, Mulan gets them in trouble, and it immediately creates tension between them. Over time, they form a close friendship. However, this film gives them very little to do, and Mulan's relationship with them feels very muted.

Mulan's mentor is not Li Shang but is instead Commander Tung, portrayed by a wasted Donnie Yen. Every character is so bland that it's difficult to care about them. The villain's motivation is very forgettable, and he barely feels like a presence throughout the film.

As a war film, this movie had the opportunity to go full-out with the action sequences. However, it appears as if they were trying to retain a PG rating but inevitably received a PG-13 rating despite the fight scenes containing not a drop of blood, which strains the credibility of a war movie.

Many of the martial arts fights are frenetically edited with lame choreography. The climax of the film makes the wise decision to put Mulan at a disadvantage in her battle, but also makes the mistake of removing the spectators from the scene, leaving Mulan's heroics unseen by the world.

The film's narration feels wholly unnecessary, as it is given by Mulan's father rather than herself when her perspective is far more interesting. However, the movie throws in a good idea by having Mulan represent a mighty phoenix, but this story doesn't reach its maximum potential.

Now, this is a mild spoiler, but it is revealed in the opening scene. This film changes Mulan by giving her a lot of chi, which makes her more powerful than other soldiers. Her father tells her to conceal her power, and her journey through the film is unleashing her chi.

Honestly, this is a terrible decision; it cheapens Mulan's character because she isn't a young woman who came from nothing and defied the odds by working hard and never giving up to become a hero. This movie gives Mulan all the power she needs from the beginning, which brings her character down a far less satisfying path because of how little she grows.

It's not just a disappointing film; it's disappointing that Disney continuously makes these half-baked live-action remakes that never hold a candle to their original movie, but exist to make money. It appears that this time, they won't get their chance.

The way I see it, why shell out $30 of your hard-earned money for a cobbled-together film with unearned character decisions if it will be free in three months to Disney+ subscribers who can currently watch a far superior telling of the same tale on Disney+?

Yep, exactly. This film isn't bad, but it is far from what it could be, and it pales in comparison to the 1998 film. This is a soulless movie that takes away the humor and entertainment of the original for a bland, tasteless, subpar film.

Grade: ★★✬☆☆ [5/10, C]


Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence (honestly, I'm pretty sure the G-rated animated movie has more carnage)

Jonathan Sim
Jonathan Sim
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Jonathan Sim

Film critic. Lover of Pixar, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Back to the Future, and Lord of the Rings.

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