Category Archives: Action

‘Blacklight’ Review

For a guy who announced he was going to retire from action movies, Liam Neeson sure does make a lot of action movies.

“Blacklight” stars Neeson as an off-the-books FBI fixer who gets caught up in a government conspiracy. Mark Williams directs while Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, and Aidan Quinn also star.

Liam Neeson seemingly puts out at least two movies a year, with this being his fifth release of the pandemic alone. “Blacklight” is just another standard shooter by Neeson and his long-time producer (and two-time director) Mark Williams, and despite a few nuggets of intrigue it will be forgotten as quickly as the last half-dozen Neeson vehicles.

To give Neeson credit, he doesn’t mail these roles in. Yes, every character he plays is the same (retired government guy who wasn’t the best dad gets a chance to redeem his soul), but he could easily sleepwalk through the motions. He tries his best to give audiences a committed-enough performance, and that is at the very least commendable.

It’s just a shame the rest of the film is just so bland. The plot plays out like “Shooter” and “All the President’s Men” had a baby and that child hit the snooze button; there isn’t a single surprise to be found here. It wants to be a conspiracy thriller, but takes far too long to get to the thrilling parts (the full extent of the story doesn’t even come into play for the first hour). There is a decent shootout near the end that is entertaining and semi-creative, but the rest of the action sequences are workmanlike at their best, and pretty shotty at their worst.

The film is shot in a very crisp and clean way, with Dutch camera angles to spare, but I don’t think that lends itself to a wannabe gritty action-thriller like this. There is just something about the film that combines the lens flares of a J.J. Abrams production with the stiff staging of a Hallmark movie, and it just makes for a very unengaging watch.

Shot in late-2020, it also tries to add some commentary about the current political landscape, including racist groups of neo-Confederates, “politically correct puppet progressives,” and its very own knockoff AOC. It will come off as pandering to some and annoyingly preaching to others, and by the halfway point these attempts to be relevant have no affect on the plot, begging the question why they were included in the first place.

I enjoy a handful of Liam Neeson’s films, but after the likes of “The Marksman” and “Honest Thief” this continues to trend of being more entertained by the film’s ludicrous moments and production shortcomings than its actual content. “Blacklight” is a movie you’ve seen done before and done better, and while I am happy for any and all content theaters can get right now, I can’t recommend you rush out and see it.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘No Time to Die’ Review

Kind of crazy to think about it, but Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond (2006-2021) lasted than Robert Downey Jr.’s as Iron Man (2008-2019).

“No Time to Die” is the 25th installment in the long-running James Bond franchise, and features Daniel Craig in his fifth and final outing as the titular spy, this time in a race to locate a kidnapped scientist who is working for a mysterious madman with a world-threatening plan. Directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the film features Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Fiennes reprising their roles from previous films, with Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Billy Magnussen, and Ana de Armas joining the cast.

The 007 films have always been hit or miss, with Craig’s “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” ranking among the best of the series and “Quantum of Solace” and “Spectre” usually being included among the worst. “No Time to Die” falls somewhere in the middle, acting as a fitting tribute to Craig’s time as the character and featuring several great action scenes from Fukunaga, but also runs far too long and is yet another installment with a weak villain.

It is hard to believe that people weren’t sold on Daniel Craig as James Bond at the time of his casting back in the mid-2000s, but much like Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck as Batman or Heath Ledger as the Joker he quickly shut doubters up with a gritty portrayal of the character. “No Time to Die” gives Craig a few chances to show Bond’s sympathetic side, as well as some dry humor. If you never warmed up to Craig then this won’t do you over, but the film makes a few nice nods to his decade-and-a-half as Bond.

The supporting cast is mostly very solid, with Lashana Lynch being the “new 007.” She has some fun fight sequences, as does Craig’s “Knives Out” co-star Ana de Armas in a limited role, showing that the franchise isn’t just a boy’s (and Dame Judi Dench) club. Christoph Waltz even gets to make a brief return from his role in “Spectre,” and thanks to some witty writing almost makes you wish we got an entire other film with him as the big baddie. And speaking of…

Rami Malek, who was cast fresh off his Oscar win as Freddie Mercury, is a different story than everyone else. Malek is doing the stoic, clenched jaw look that he has now known for, and his performance is as bland as the backstory his character is given. I really couldn’t tell you his exact motivations for why he wants to kill people, and in a franchise with so many rich bad guys, Craig has really only gotten to go up against one (Javier Bardem).

The action sequences are top-notch, with a few edge-of-your seat gun fights. Fukunaga even manages to get in a single-take stairway shootout that runs for about three minutes, something he loves to put into his projects (not only his famous four-minute one in “True Detective” but 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation”).

The biggest problem with “No Time to Die” (outside Malek) is that when guns aren’t going off, things can teeter on boring. There is a lot of talk about infections, de-population, and targeted groups of people, and for a film that was originally due out in April 2020 and now is released post(-ish) of a global pandemic, it may not be what some folk will deem as “entertainment.” The film runs 163 minutes and in no way justifies that length; if it had been a clean 140 then I think this could have been one of the better Bond films, but it wears out its welcome before a lackluster climax.

The latest 007 film is great news for theaters starving for blockbuster content, but only a ho-hum reward for actual cinemagoers. Sure, there is fun to be had; and the classic Bond cars, gadgets, and music are enough to make you remember why we love the movies. But there is something hollow at the core, and while there may be “No Time to Die” there was certainly time that could’ve been trimmed off this runtime.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Copshop’ Review

Sometimes all the pieces are there, but a film just doesn’t work for ya…

“Copshop” stars Frank Grillo as a mob fixer who gets locked in a jail alongside the hitman hired to kill him (Gerard Butler), as the pair and a rookie cop (Alexis Louder) must work together to survive an assault on the police station. Joe Carnahan directs a script he co-wrote.

I am a big fan of Frank Grillo, he has a decent B-movie screen presence and has turned in solid supporting roles in films like “Warrior” and “End of Watch,” and while I have no real opinion on Gerard Butler as an actor, I think he has made some decent films, including last year’s surprisingly good “Greenland.” I also have a love-hate relationship with director Joe Carnahan, so on paper this film should have at least in-part worked for me. Spoiler: it didn’t.

This is one of those films that knows exactly what it wants to do, but as commendable as that is, it was just never gelling for me. Outside the main trio characters are completely expendable and have zero true character traits or development, and while deep mythos and deep plots aren’t what you look for in an old-school shoot-em-up, it’s nice to have something to grasp onto as an audience member.

Grillo and Butler aren’t mailing it in, but they’ve both been better. In fact, they spend a majority of the film’s runtime spent locked up in jailcells. The real star of the show is Alexis Louder, who is likely only known for her supporting role in this year’s “The Tomorrow War.” Louder has a nice charisma about her, and while her work her isn’t enough to save the film as a whole, it is a nice calling card for her moving forward.

The action set pieces just never grab you, and a lot of the blood is clearly done in post. Again, the film is clearly going for that 90s/2000s B-movie feel, but it just feels more cheap than it does campy. For being pretty thinly written, the plot is needlessly convoluted (several plot points are introduced only to be abandoned or quickly resolved in the third reel), and this would’ve just worked better as a straight cat-and-mouse game between Grillo and Butler.

“Copshop” isn’t the kind of bad movie that makes you upset, just disappointed that it is never anywhere near as fun as it should be given all it has at its disposal. If you want a brainless time at the movies and have absolutely zero expectations, then sure, maybe toss this one a bone (it moves quick enough, all things considered). But all parties involved have done better work, and there are films out right now that are better uses of your time and money.

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘Infinite’ Review

For a blockbuster film that was shot with the intent of being released into theaters, this is one of the most straight-to-streaming-looking films I’ve ever seen.

“Infinite” stars Mark Wahlberg as a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, only to realize he is actually seeing memories of his past lives and must join a secret organization in order to stop a madman from destroying the world. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Toby Jones, and Dylan O’Brien also star while Antoine Fuqua directs.

Like many 2020 films, “Infinite” was set to be released in theaters but was delayed, only to be moved streaming. While Paramount sold off several of its films, including “Trial of the Chicago 7” to Netflix, they held onto “Infinite,” opting to make it the first exclusive Paramount+ feature film (the service released “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” in February, but that received theater and Netflix releases elsewhere). I’m not sure why the studio felt like “Infinite” was the film that needed to be held onto and be the official hat tossed into the streaming ring, but it is a nonsensical, boring mess of a film that will be seen by few and remembered by even less.

Mark Wahlberg has always been a hit-and-miss actor in both performances and his choice of vehicles, with great work in the likes of “Boogie Nights” and “The Departed” to unwatchable bombs like “Mile 22” and the “Transformers” sequels. This falls into the latter category, with Wahlberg sleepwalking through his role. He offers narration here and there throughout, and by the end it sounds like he is reading his lines as part of a hostage video.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is another talented actor who seems to almost exclusively choose projects far below what he deserves (“2012,” “Locked Down,” “The Secret in Their Eyes”) and here he is equally as bad as Wahlberg, but at least he has the dignity to have fun with his role. Ejiofor is so over-the-top as the film’s bad guy, chewing up every scene he is in, that at least he made an effort to deserve his paycheck. The rest of the cast ranges from bland to cringe, with Jason Mantzoukas doing his normal crazy annoying guy schtick from a dozen other things. Outside Wahlberg, I couldn’t tell you a single character’s name if you put a gun to my head.

Antoine Fuqua is a talented filmmaker, he has made genuine good films (“Training Day”) and fun action flicks (“Shooter” and “Olympus Has Fallen”), so to see a PG-13 film like this so devoid of style or entertainment is actually baffling. The action set pieces are cut together so haphazardly that it is impossible to tell what is going on, and there was only one moment that I chuckled because of a clever grenade kill.

By far the worst aspect of the film, however, is the screenplay. It is the type of script that has bad guys are evil for the sake of being evil, with no attempts to justify or rationalize their actions like Thanos or Killmonger. New gadgets and rules get introduced every other scene, and for a film not based on a book series with huge established lore there are surface-level attempts of world-building that are quickly abandoned.

“Infinite” has all the visual appeal of a straight-to-DVD movie, with the razor-sharp writing of a Hallmark film. It truly is unbelievable that a film with this many talented people involved (including two Academy Award-nominated actors and a proven director) is not only just bad, but extraordinarily boring. If we really are going to move our blockbuster films out of theaters and onto streaming services (God forbid), we deserve a helluva lot better than whatever this film was trying to be.

Critics Rating: 3/10

‘A Quiet Place Part II’ Review

Theaters are BACK, baby!

“A Quiet Place Part II” is the sequel to the 2018 sleeper hit, again written and directed by John Krasinski. The film follows a woman and her children (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe) one more having to navigate a world where aliens are hunting them based on sound; Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou join the cast.

This was due out in theaters in March 2020 (I had my ticket bought and was a week out from going) but became one of the initial films to be delayed due to the coronavirus shutting down theaters. It has been a long wait, but there is something poetic about “A Quiet Place Part II,” a rare sequel that does its predecessor justice, being the first “big” release of the (almost) post-pandemic era.

“A Quiet Place” took a lot of people by surprise when it came out, and came *this* close getting a Best Picture nomination (it earned top nods at nearly every guild). I like the film and think Krasinski, known for his comedy, did a good job directing the thriller. The sequel ups the stakes (and by default, the budget) but Krasinski manages to keep the film’s heart in-tact. The action sequences are bigger and I really enjoyed the tracking shots and use of background actors to create a sense of chaos, compared to the “hold your breath and look over your shoulder” sequences of the first film. I think he does make the mistake a lot of monster movies (especially sequels) make and shows the creatures a bit too often (the scariest thing is what you can’t see), but it is never overly excessive. I do think that we lose some of the “don’t you dare make a sound” tension since the characters have a way to fight the creatures, but Krasinski is able to play with these new rules.

Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe are both great talents and they’re good here, but the show belongs to Millicent Simmonds and Cillian Murphy. Simmonds takes the reigns as the lead of the film, and she and Murphy, playing a man dealing with being alone in this bold new world, make an interesting team. Their quest is where “Quiet Place 2” thrives, creating some of the tensest sequences of the film.

Much like the first film, I think it takes a bit of time to get the ball rolling, but once Krasinski really gets things moving he doesn’t stop until the credits roll. The film does have some moments of poor sound editing where it is difficult to make out what actors are saying, but for the most part the seamless transition from booming screams, to static, to mute make for an immersive experience.

The film does a great job of building off the lore and rules of the first installment while introducing new challenges and risks, and that isn’t an easy thing for a sequel to do (clearly; name five follow-ups as good as their predecessors). You hear the line “this deserves to be seen in a theater” a lot and usually it’s just code for “this is a big-budget blockbuster that you will forget about almost instantly” but in this case it is actually true: this film deserves to be seen in a theater. From the sound, to the action, to simply giving Krasinski and his team the support they deserve, “A Quiet Place Part II” is a great unofficial start to both the summer movie season and return to normalcy at the cinema.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Outside the Wire’ Review

By definition, this is the best movie of 2021.

“Outside the Wire” stars Anthony Mackie as a cyborg in the year 2036 who partners with a drone pilot (Damson Idris) to deliver vaccines across a warzone. Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly, and Pilou Asbæk also star, while Mikael Håfström directs.

Netflix was one of the few saving graces when it came to 2020, not only keeping awards season somewhat normal with players like “Mank,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” but also keeping us occupied in the early days of quarantine with “Extraction” and “Tiger King.” They recently announced they plan on releasing a new movie every week of the year in 2021, and they start off by giving us “Outside the Wire,” an R-rated sci-fi action film that isn’t without its moments, but also nothing we haven’t seen before.

You can’t go into a film like this with many expectations. The sci-fi genre has been done a thousand different ways, and “robot soldiers in the near future” is no different. Here, Anthony Mackie takes a break from being the new Captain America in the MCU to play a cyborg with a conflicted sense of duty. Mackie is basically playing the same dry and sassy guy he always does, which isn’t a knock or compliment so much as just a statement of fact. Damson Idris actually turns in a solid performance as Thomas Harp, a young drone pilot who is paired with Mackie following disobeying orders during a battle. Idris has a few moments of conflicted nature himself, and has a somewhat moving moment when he is forced to take a human life up-close for the first time, opposed to simply through a computer screen mile away from the actual conflict.

For being a Netflix film, some of the visuals and production values here look pretty cheap. The robot soldiers and drone shots are pretty cool, however most of the kills involve either cheap spurts or awful-looking CGI blood. Some of the fight choreography is impressive, and when director Håfström stages the camera far-enough away from the action that we can see what is going on some of the kills are fun. I doubt this even got the $65 million budget that “Extraction” received, because for every shot that feels like a normal studio blockbuster, there are two that come off like a straight-to-DVD Bruce Willis romp.

The film tries to offer various forms of commentary, but none of them are fleshed out of groundbreaking. The United States is involved in an endless cycle of pointless wars? Wow. Robots are the future of warfare but that isn’t without its risks? You don’t say. Many of these ideas aren’t even introduced until the final act, where the film gets randomly messy. Despite its familiar plot and lack of true ideas, the film is also very self-serious, which ends up hindering it.

“Outside the Wire” isn’t the worst movie of its genre, and since it’s free on Netflix I can recommend checking it out without any guilt on my conscience. It has moments of interest and entertainment, and actually may have been a traditional solid boots-on-the-ground war film that didn’t need to add the sci-fi element. So long as you go in without expecting anything new, deep, or groundbreaking I think there are worse ways to kill two hours, because let’s be honest, what else do we have to do right now?

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘The Marksman’ Review

Another year, another Liam Neeson-with-a-gun movie.

“The Marksman” stars Liam Neeson as a retired U.S. Marine who lives on the Arizona-Mexican border, and is forced to escort a young Mexican boy (Jacob Perez) to Chicago while being pursued by cartel members. Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, and Teresa Ruiz also star, while Robert Lorenz directs.

Despite insisting he was done with the “retired/widowed/alcoholic ex-killer gets caught up in a situation and reluctantly does the right thing” movies several years ago, this is the second such film of Liam Neeson’s to come out during the pandemic alone (the other being the perfectly fine, whatever “Honest Thief” last October). I could honestly copy and paste most of my review for that film here and not need to change anything but names and locations, because like many of Neeson’s recent outings “The Marksman” is a very workmanlike, boilerplate installment into a well-worn genre that will give its intended audience their kicks.

While “Taken,” “Non-Stop,” and even “Unknown” all have their own sense of flair and energy, recent films by Neeson have been pretty tame. However that is not the fault of the 68-year-old Irishman. Unlike Bruce Willis, who seemingly puts out a new film every three months and reads his lines like a hostage tape, Neeson never phones his roles in. Yes at this point he is essentially playing himself, growling and only half-trying to conceal his Irish accent, but he adds a sense of gravitas to these films that would otherwise feel straight-to-VOD.

Unlike “Honest Thief” I will at least give this film credit for having a little bit of color. Cinematographer Mark Patten includes some nice sunset shots painted against the desert hills of the American Midwest, and makes each state that Neeson and Perez pass through feel at least a little unique.

The film is paced fine-enough, although there really isn’t 108 minutes’ worth of actual content here. Like most buddy road trip movies there are plot conveniences to force the story along (Neeson finds a bag of money but continues to use his credit card simply so we have an excuse for the bad guys to track him), and until the final shootout there isn’t much action. Robert Lorenz has made a career producing Clint Eastwood’s films (his sole other directorial effort was of Eastwood in 2012’s “Trouble with the Curve”), and it is easy to see this having been written with Eastwood in mind (this plot is also incredibly similar to Eastwood’s 2018 film “The Mule”).

Those who like Liam Neeson shooters or any these senior citizen romps should get their kicks, and if you’ve been looking for a reason to return to the theater then this is as good-enough as any I suppose. Normally January is reserved for the stinkers (last year’s worst film “The Grudge” literally came out on the third day of 2020 and I never forgave it), so by those standards “The Marksman” is a hit; just know that this isn’t Neeson’s first rodeo, and he and Lorenz have every intent of sticking to the formula, for better or worse.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Review

This film’s entire message is “careful what you wish for,” and it rings true about the release of the film itself.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is the sequel to the 2017 film, and features Gal Gadot returning to the titular role. Here, she and her long-lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) must stop a businessman bent on taking over the world (Pedro Pascal). Kristen Wiig also stars as supervillain Cheetah, while Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen reprise their roles as Wonder Woman’s mother mentors; Patty Jenkins returns to the director’s chair.

I really liked the first “Wonder Woman” film. The climax leaves more to be desired, but the overall product was good enough to place on my 2017 Top 10 list, and I think it remains the best film of the DCEU (granted, a low bar). “1984” was due out this June but then, well, you know what happened. Warner Bros. ended up releasing it simultaneously in theaters and streaming on HBO Max on Christmas, a move met with a polarized response. From the success of the first installment to the fun trailers for this one, hype and clamoring for this were high, but after seeing the end result we would have all been fine just waiting to see it on the big screen.

One of the highlights of the 2017’s film was the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, and that again is the film’s biggest strength here. I won’t go into detail about how/why Pine manages to return to a sequel set 70 years after the first film, but rest assured he’s a treat. Gadot is again solid, although the thick accent occasionally makes bits of dialogue hard to make out.

Newcomers Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal are a lukewarm bag. Early on, they are both chiasmatic and own the screen, with Pascal being a (borderline) con-man and Wiig being her normal dorky self. However once both go into supervillain mode they become literal cartoon characters, and don’t seem to belong in the world that Patty Jenkins has created.

And let’s talk about that world. Much like the “X-Men” reboots/prequels, this film goes out of its way to remind you the decade in which it is set, however other than using the anxieties of the Cold War, this could have taken place at any point in time. Jenkins throws fanny packs, arcades, and perms at the screen, and it’s fun to go “ha ha, the 80s were weird, huh” a few times but after a while you just want the plot to, you know, make some sense.

And almost none of this film makes any sense. There is a magic stone that grants wishes, and as the plot goes on there are more and more things that it can do, but it is never explained how or why. Do people have to submit to the will of the stone once asking for something? Is one person’s wish negated by another? They establish you must be touching it to get your wish, but then that rule is ignored later one in a big way. None of these things are answered, and by the time the climax comes around there is so much going on yet it feels like nothing is happening.

Some of the effects are cool and action scenes well-staged, however a few sequences are laughably bad. Whether it is over/under-acting by Gadot, to clear stunt wires and greenscreen, maybe seeing this on the big screen would make these flaws more forgivable. But seated on my couch with others I am free to vocally point out my issues as I see them, instead of being wowed by the spectacle of it all. Warner Bros. may have inadvertently created a situation that advocates and encourages theater-going over streaming, because I feel I am not the only one who will walk away from this with a sour taste in my mouth from the final 30 minutes, instead remembering the fun (enough) two hours.

“Wonder Woman 1984” starts out fun and fine, but as it chugs along it eventually goes completely off the rails. It is a disappointment in a year of disappointments but for whatever it’s worth, this is still one of the better DC films; unlike “Suicide Squad” or “Justice League,” at least this doesn’t feel like a studio-mandated Frankenstein of a film.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Honest Thief’ Review

Even in a year as weird as 2020, there’s something comforting about still having a “Liam Neeson with a gun” movie.

“Honest Thief” stars Liam Neeson in the titular role as a former bank robber who wants to trade the $9 million he stole over the years for a reduced sentence after meeting a woman (Kate Walsh). Robert Patrick, Anthony Ramos, Jeffrey Donovan, and Jai Courtney also star, while Mark Williams (who co-created the show “Ozark”) directs.

In 2017, Liam Neeson announced he was done with the action genre, claiming he was “sixty-[bleeping]-five” and the genre had worn out its welcome with him. Since then, he has starred in “The Commuter,” “Widows,” “Cold Pursuit,” and now “Honest Thief,” all of which feature our favorite Irishman running around with a gun. It is what it is, can’t fault Neeson for wanting to pocket as much money as he can, and sometimes these films have a decent enjoyment factor (“Run All Night” is one of the better cop thrillers in recent memory). “Honest Thief” has all the ingredients of a successful romp, from corrupt FBI agents to a wrongfully accused Neeson on the run, but it lacks the energy or true intrigue to set itself apart from any other thriller you can find in the Walmart bin.

I usually like these Liam Neeson movies well-enough, most of the time they get a 5 or 6 from me. So I didn’t go into this expecting anything special or new. Neeson is doing his half-hearted attempt to downplay his Irish accent (he’s a former Marine, implying he has been an American for at least several decades), and he gives a dedicated-enough performance. There isn’t much nuance or character development for anyone here (the film is 93 minutes without credits so there isn’t much extra room to flesh characters out), but he gets the job done.

The set-up of the film is probably the most entertaining part, with Neeson wanting to turn himself in and two corrupt FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) deciding to take the money for themselves and frame Neeson. That part is cool, but once Neeson goes on the run with his girlfriend (a serviceable Kate Walsh) things become pretty boilerplate. The climax slightly redeems itself, but not in any sort of revolutionary way.

I liked the way the film was shot, it’s pretty simple and clean, and there are a few good shots of around the Boston area. But whenever there are special effects (including one explosion) things look *very* direct-to-DVD quality, and some of the logic of characters is non-existent.

“Honest Thief” is a very harmless PG-13 thriller, and if you come across it on TV one day then sure, check it out. It is slated to play in theaters, and like “The War with Grandpa” I wouldn’t praise this as the savior of cinema or worth you venturing out into the real world to see, but if these Neeson shooters are your cup of guilty pleasure tea, then you should get your fix.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Mulan’ Review

Eventually Disney is going to run out of animated films to remake and be forced to come up with an original idea, but that day is not today.

“Mulan” is the live-action remake of the 1998 animated film of the same name, based on “The Ballad of Mulan” legend. The film stars Liu Yifei in the title role, as a young woman in rural China who pretends to be a man in order to take her father’s place in the Imperial Army. Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, and Jet Li appear in supporting roles as Niki Caro directs.

The “Mulan” remake had its share of bumps and blockades before finally reaching audiences, including several delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lead actress Liu Yifei (a Chinese-born American citizen) supporting the police and Chinese government in the Hong Kong protests. Those on top of the announcement that this remake would be more in-line with the Mulan legend and not the original film (which meant no songs or talking dragons), angered and confused Disney fans. The cherry on top is this is the most expensive film ever directed by a woman (clocking in at $200 million) and won’t even get a theatrical release in the United States (it is a premium $30 rental on Disney+), so this is just a production full of question marks. And is it worth all the trouble and hype? I mean, no.

As Fa Mulan, Yifei is fine. She keeps the quiet demeanor that would be required of a woman impersonating a male soldier, however there is nothing really captivating or special about her screen presence. I really couldn’t give very many adjectives to describe her character, or any characters here for that matter, and that is just one of the many areas where this film falls flat both on its own and compared to the original. The rest of the cast is solid, even though some lines (and seemingly all of Jet Li’s dialogue?) have awkward post-dubbing.

With $200 million to play with, Niki Caro has constructed a film that mostly looks great, with huge sets and sprawling battle sequences. From what I read about the production and what it looks like on-screen, much of the shoot was practical effects, so when we see dozens upon dozens of soldiers sprinting into armed conflict, that is all happening and you feel the adrenaline. Caro and cinematographer Mandy Walker play with the camera, spinning it as bodies fall or weaving it between sparring men, and it certainly makes this one of the better-looking of the Disney live-action remakes.

The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is probably the standout here, having some nice epic moments but mostly nuanced (taking many beats from the original’s “Reflection” song). The original “Mulan” earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score (back when they separated comedy and dramatic music) and this could very well follow suit.

The film’s biggest issues come from both what it left out from the original and what it replaced those things with. The original film featured great songs (who doesn’t love “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” or “True to Your Heart?”) and a scene-stealing Eddie Murphy voicing Mulan’s loyal dragon Mushu. This film opted to stay closer to the original story, so it makes sense that talking mythical creatures and soldiers breaking out into song wouldn’t fit the tone; ok fine. However they added a magical witch assisting the bad guys army (which aren’t even Huns led by Shan Yu, another seemingly needless change) and Mulan is followed by a phoenix, a sign of her ancestors watching over her. Neither of those are based in reality either, so it begs the question: who were these changes made for? Also now Mulan’s specialness and skills come from her relationship with Qi (ch’i), which is literally this film’s version of The Force from “Star Wars;” it’s just lazy.

The 2020 “Mulan” remake is solid enough on its own merit. It has fine acting and impressive set pieces, but I just don’t know who this film is really for. Fans of the original won’t like the creative liberties Caro and the screenwriters have taken, modern children likely won’t get too immersed in a PG-13 battle epic, and history buffs like me can’t even watch it from that lens. It is just another film-by-committee blockbuster that seems to be plaguing the industry, and since it is so instantly forgettable (I saw it under an hour ago and only remember highlights), it is certainly not worth the $30 Disney is charging on-top of the Disney+ monthly rate. In December the film will be made available “for free” to all subscribers, and maybe then this is worth checking out just to cross it off you Disney remake bingo board; but until then, Mulan can pack it up, go home, she’s through.

Critics Rating: 5/10