The trailers for this film bored me. The prospect of another live-action remake of one of Disney's animated films didn't excite me. I wasn't a huge fan of the original animated film. I enjoy it, but I don't love it, so I wasn't too terribly invested in another Mulan film. So it was no surprise that when I watched it, I was bored. This review is gonna be short and sweet because I have already spent more time than necessary with this film.
Set in Imperial China, the film is about Mulan who defies both the law and tradition by disguising herself as a man and taking her father's place in the army since the o ly man in her family is her old and weaken father. The soldiers are trained to save China from Bori Khan and his forces, who seek to overthrow the Emperor of China. So overall, the same story as before. A few changes here and there, but the foundation is the same.
Shifting from a musical to a fantasy epic was at least an inspired choice, rather than another direct remake. Its almost as if the filmmakers had a feeling that fans wouldn't be feeling that essentially shot for shot remake of The Lion King (2019). Mulan is a unique woman with elevated chi that allows her to have enhanced reflexes. She has had them since she was a child, and had a pretty good grasp of how to use it, and this continued into adulthood. So when she embraces it when she reveals her true identity, the moment falls. Had she denied and hide her gift, it would have been a more powerful moment, but it just wasn't. Maybe she should have cut off her hair like the original.
The parallels between Mulan and Xianniang, the shape-shifting witch is one of the only interesting things the film. The two of them are unique individuals with abilities that others consider taboo and are treated as outcasts. While this isn't fully explored to its potential, the story between the two of them is strong enough that it honed in on the fact that the main villain Bori Khan, felt flat. Honestly, the film didn't make his character or his motivations a priority so he is as generic as it gets.
Director Niki Caro invests a good deal of time creating interestingly shot action sequences. I did enjoy what she did with the camera. Having Donnie Yen doing his thing is always a plus. It did get to feel repetitive in a way, and overall, it wasn't as epic as it wanted to be. The final battle in fact felt quite small.
The lead actress is... dull. We spend 90% of the film following Liu Yifei's Mulan, but rooting for her to succeed and engaging with her journey was difficult. Lack of facial expressions, and emotional weight. Liu is at her most energetic during the fight scenes, but that's it. Maybe the screenplay doesn't give her much to work with, but great actors have done a lot more with a lot less. The performances all around in this film are passable. The ensemble of soldiers was plain while the original had several different unique personalities.
A shame that the film was released on Disney+, rather than in theaters, like many others, but I doubt it would have made its money back. The most expensive film directed by a female director at 200 million, we should have gotten a lot more. A beautiful looking mess.
Mulan sets itself apart enough from the original animation film, and edges towards a thrill ride with large scale battle sequences, but comes off as dull with a flat lead performance, thinly written characters, and unearned emotional catharsis.
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