Review: Live Action Treatment Diminishes the New 'Mulan'

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday September 3, 2020

Yifei Liu in Mulan (2020)
Yifei Liu in Mulan (2020)  (Source:Photo by Jasin Boland - © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc)

Compared to last year's abominable, carbon copy, CGI garbage fire "The Lion King," Disney's latest crack at a live-action remake -- "Mulan" -- is damn near a masterpiece. But that's like comparing an uncleaned Porta Potty to one that's been recently scrubbed down... there's still some shit there.

"Mulan," for what it's worth, is a passable entertainment within Disney's "Remember this?" cash-grab oeuvre, but that's only when you examine it within this very specific criteria. When compared to grand-scale martial arts epics and sweeping stories of heroism and courage, "Mulan" falls short by exhibiting not much more than the predictable beats of its predecessors. We've seen this movie before, and not just because it's a remake. We've seen it before because, at its core, there isn't much originality in this blockbuster's bones.

The story has changed only slightly, eliminating the talking dragon, Mushu, originally voiced by Eddie Murphy, as well as the songs (though there are slight nods to these within Harry Gregson-Williams' score, which might be the film's strongest aspect). We still get the general arc of Mulan (Yifei Liu, an admittedly magnetic screen presence), who disguises herself as a man in order to serve in the Imperial Army and prevent her ailing father from participating. Some elements are altered in terms of the antagonists and random plot points, but overall we're spoon-fed more of the same, only with different packaging.

The direction, by Niki Caro ("Whale Rider"), is respectable and clean but fails to inject the much-needed visual innovation this movie so desperately lacks. The cinematography, by Mandy Walker, is sunny and so very Disney, while the editing by David Coulson chops up action scenes into itty-bitty pieces that never quite capture the martial arts choreography that "Mulan" demands.

In comparison to something like Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," this is child's play. Obviously, this is a different film directed at a different audience, but the combat sequences - especially the swordplay - operate with an undeniably dull blade. Arrows fly. Horses gallop. People defy gravity. And all the while, I yawned. "Show me something new," I yearned inside.

To be completely fair, I feel as if "Mulan" is a perfect COVID-era example of the things that are lost without the theatrical experience. Whether it's Wi-Fi buffering or the smaller scale of television versus cinema, you definitely aren't receiving the same experience when you watch "Mulan" at home. Would I have liked this movie more had I viewed it in a theater? Honestly, yes, but the fact that I didn't doesn't change the fact that the movie still doesn't deliver, regardless of screen size.

But does it really matter, when this piece of commerce designed for nothing but consumption will be inevitably devoured? I think, if anything, the small screen turns "Mulan" from a big-screen blockbuster to just another flavor of the week.