Mulan‘s pretty much a great way for the return to cinemas in 2020: highly anticipated and a complete let down.
Now, it’s nowhere near as abysmal as 2019’s The Lion King or Aladdin, but that can largely be credited to Mulan having an actually original script… somewhat.
Putting aside all the off-screen controversies or unrelated drama, Mulan stands as testament to what Disney should have been doing all along: allowing their live action remakes to be host to original–or at least, re-imagined–stories that are not held slave to the classics.
While this tenure of live action remakes has held shaky ground, efforts such as 2015’s Cinderella, and 2016’s The Jungle Book have proven a place for these re-produced classics. Unfortunately, while Mulan doesn’t sink to the levels of The Lion King or Alice Through the Looking Glass, it still sits in the corner of: is this the best Disney has to offer?
Part of the tragedy of Mulan lies in the effort that has been clearly placed in its production. The cast is great although characters feel underdeveloped, the action is amazing even if sometimes undeserving, the themes are present but kinda unclear.
In all, it’s a movie that feels like it may have rushed along the production pipeline quicker than it should have.
Even more tragically, the slight (but damning) lack of development is made clear with the actually interesting villains in the film. Unlike the sad recreation of Scar or the downright joke that was Jafar, Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan and Gong Li’s Xian Lang are both crafted for this film and are suitably menacing in their own right.
While Lee’s sneering Bori Khan fulfils his trope-y obligations for the most part, it remains that Li’s Xian Lang may have been given the developmental shove considering some interesting nuggets of personality were strewn along the way. Instead, she’s victim to flashy CGI-enabled powers that do little beyond undermining her own potential.
Of course, it is nice that the film didn’t see the need to force a female character into the shoes of the primary antagonist as so often occurs with “feminist” films. Mulan’s genuinely badass and she had no issue taking on male bad guys in the original film, so it was nice to see that that was preserved here.
What is truly bewildering is the movie’s odd need to justify her talents. Early in the movie, it is revealed that her combat skills are due to her unnatural attunement to Qi. If you aren’t already familiar, Hollywood’s essentially turned the spiritual concept of Qi into the Chinese Force over the last few decades.
The entire presence of this “mystical” element is incredibly contrived and unnecessary, given that the point of Mulan was never that she was the frikkin’ Avatar anyways. It’s just used as a lazy way to connect her to Gong Li’s character, and is an even lazier metaphor for how women who rise above men are treated.
And then there’s the phoenix… no, that’s really all I have to say about the damn bird ’cause it does jackshit. It just flies around providing material for promo shots.
Ultimately, Mulan is just a movie that exists. It isn’t good enough to be discussed, neither is it bad enough to bring an end to Disney’s live action remake effort. If anything, its only distinctive place in history may be its unique release on Disney+ and the implications it may have on the future of blockbusters.
Mulan is out now in all theatres and… you should honestly just stay the hell home. The virus is far from done and this is not a movie you should be risking your life for.