September 3, 2020 Mulan (Movie Review)
Disney’s Mulan has already seen its fair share of problems. The film was supposed to be Disney’s first major blockbuster in a post-Avengers world, but saw numerous delays as theaters around the world shuttered indefinitely. Deciding they could not wait any longer, the live-action film will be available to all Disney+ streaming service users starting Friday, September 4th. Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider 2002, The Zookeeper’s Wife 2017), Mulan is the highest budgeted film ever made by a woman. But can a big budget be enough to entice audiences into embracing an at-home movie experience?
It comes as no surprise that many users have balked at the $29.99 Disney is asking them to cough up, on top of the monthly subscription fee. However, unlike other services that will charge $20 to simply rent and view a film for a small window of time, Mulan can be yours to stream as many times as you like – as long as you continue to stay subscribed to Disney+, of course. You may wonder if Mulan is worth that steep price to watch at home, as the film deserves to be seen on the big screen, but it is worth your time and money even still?
Mulan is grand on a scale that only Disney could produce. Massive, intricate set pieces act as a backdrop for the story of Mulan (Yifei Liu: The Forbidden Kingdom 2008, The Assassins 2012), a young Chinese woman who has never quite fit in with her community. Mulan is adventurous, boisterous, and possesses the chi of a great warrior, but her society believes that a woman’s purpose is to bring honor to her family through marriage. However, when China is invaded by the ruthless Bori Khan’s (Jason Scott Lee: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story 1993, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny 2016) army, Mulan risks her life pretending to be a male soldier in order to save her ailing father from certain death.
Several recent live-action remakes have kept the singalong songs and whimsical feel of their originals, but Mulan is the first to stand out as something completely different. Those familiar with the beloved 1998 animated film will find some similarities in this adaptation, but Caro’s decision to take Mulan in a more serious direction is a welcome one. This film is not a musical, nor does it have the comic relief of cute little creatures voiced by comedy icons. Caro’s Mulan is much more grounded in reality and Drama, and therefore feels more respectful of its source material and of Chinese culture. Most importantly, Mulan is still the inspirational and exciting tale that audiences love, and Liu is a worthy on-screen heroine for generations of kids to look up to.
All that in mind, magic still runs deep in this film, making an already legendary tale seem all the more grand. The awesome, mysterious witch Xianniang (Gong Li: Memoirs of a Geisha 2005, Miami Vice 2006) is one of the most interesting Disney villains in some time, and she deserved far more screen time. Huge battles and gravity-defying stunts are the main source of the film’s action. It is pretty violent for a Disney film, though, easily earning its PG-13 rating thanks to a series of sword clashes and arrow volleys. The film’s darker tone is more befitting of the story, so thankfully Disney did not stoop to a more watered-down story.
There are certain points that Mulan fails to hit, however. Most of the attempts at comedy fall flat, and despite a lengthy 115 minute runtime, the plot seems to move too quickly. Those massive battles are contrasted with touching human moments, but they often come across as unearned. Still, Mulan soars to the top tier of Disney live-action remakes for its quality production and willingness to take much-needed steps in a new direction. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Mulan 3.5 out of 5 stars.