Review Round-Up: Niki Caro’s Mulan

Does it make sense to pay extra to watch Disney’s live-action remake now, or can you wait until December?
Mulan - Niki Caro
Liu Yifei is Mulan in Disney’s live-action remake

Plans for a live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan began way back in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2018 that filming actually began with director Niki Caro (The Zookeeper’s Wife, Whale Rider) and Liu Yifei as the titular heroine. Mulan had its Hollywood debut on March 9, 2020, but then the pandemic happened and its theatrical release schedule was thrown into limbo.

In August, Disney announced that Mulan would skip theaters. Instead, it would be released directly to Disney+ on September 4, 2020 for a premium access fee of $30 (in addition to the normal Disney+ fee). Mulan will be available for this fee until November 2 and then become available for all Disney+ subscribers on December 4.

With its Disney+ debut this week, official reviews have come pouring in, and I’ve assembled a few excerpts below. Read through them and decide if its worth shelling out the extra cash to see the live-action Mulan right now, or if you’re cool with waiting until December (assuming you’re a Disney+ subscriber, that is).

Justin Chang, ​“Fails to breathe new life into an old tale”:

Mulan, while far from a great movie, was clearly made for the big screen. The director Niki Caro doesn’t skimp on spectacle: She handles the large-scale action sequences with flair, and she fills the frame with beautiful costumes and majestic landscapes — many of them from New Zealand, which stands in nicely for China. But I wish the movie’s engagement with Chinese culture went deeper than that gorgeous surface — that it succeeded in breathing fresh dramatic life into this oft-told tale.

Manohla Dargis, ​“A preternaturally sunny, pointedly bloodless PG-13 affair”:

Mulan’s metamorphosis is complicated, to the movie’s credit. Whether she navigates gender satisfyingly is yet another question, one that will be best answered by the girls and women who yearn for more characters that look like them, speak to them. Some will find it here; others will take this story and run with it: they will wear its costumes, play with its dolls, and they will rewatch, rethink, remake this tale until it becomes a perfect reflection of their desires.

Karen Han, ​“The remake of the 1998 animated film is mixed at best”:

The story and execution are shaky. Some of the editing is also baffling, as some cuts leave out enough action to be jarring. But the amount of joy and goodwill born from seeing a screen filled entirely with Asian actors who are either still relative unknowns… or just mostly unknown to Western audiences is difficult to overlook, as is the sentiment stirred up by a single refrain of ​“Reflection” for anyone fond of the original film. Those elements excuse many sins, including how generic the new Mulan feels — and an oddly prominent bent toward nationalism, as protecting the reigning dynasty becomes Mulan’s primary mission.

Scott Mendelson, ​“Restrained, muted, respectful to a fault”:

The core hook of the movie is that it is a loose remake of not just the Mulan legend but the 1998 animated feature, and that it’s Disney spending $200 million to offer a sprawling, big-scale action epic. However, it lacks the spitfire energy and courage of its title hero, and the visual imagination of recent blockbusters domestic and foreign. It is so concerned with being respectful to the theoretical Chinese audiences that it comes off as patronizing and often bloodless.

Rodrigo Perez, ​“A rousing warrior epic”:

An epic coming of age journey with scale and spectacle, and rousing heart, Mulan is a triumph and essentially boils down to a wholehearted tale of feminine resolve, proving the boys wrong and making a father proud while being true to one’s self. That sounds a little simplistic, but Caro’s movie has surprising layers, of color, contour, and shade to shape her magnificent new empowering fairy tale.

Richard Roeper, ​“Comes to life with flying colors”:

Yes, it’s a shame that American audiences won’t be able to see Niki Caro’s spectacular live-action epic Mulan in theaters, but the good news is this is such a great-looking film, with amazing set pieces and dazzling action and colors so vibrant they would dazzle a Crayola factory, it will still play well on your home monitor. There are so many gorgeous shades of orange and magenta, blue and yellow, it’s as if we’re seeing these colors for the first time.

Mel Valentin, ​“An ultra-reverential, wuxia-flavored, song-free remake of the 1998 animated musical”:

Even as Mulan stumbles thematically or metaphorically, it’s hard to argue with the visual splendor and spectacle put on screen by Caro, cinematographer Mandy Walker, or a production team fully committed to bringing a rich, vibrant, colorful imperial China to digital life. Lightly mixing in wire-fu (wuxia) into her arsenal of filmmaking tricks, Caro stages the bloodless battles with an exacting eye for visual composition and spatial coherence.

Nancy Wang Yuen, ​“An epic martial arts film with social relevance”:

Though it lacks silly humor, Mulan makes up for it through thrilling fight scenes that unfold as part of Hua Mulan’s story. The more she embraces who she is, the more powerful a fighter she becomes. Liu shines in her action scenes with a graceful physicality. And she is joined by some genuine legends: the always-impressive Donnie Yen and Jet Li. Every time Yen appears, all eyes are drawn to his mesmerizing martial arts demonstrations, and I cheered as Li, who plays the Emperor, dropped a couple of displays with gravitas.

Mulan begins streaming on Disney+ on September 4, 2020 for Disney+ subscribers who are willing to pay a premium fee. Watch the trailer below.