As wish-fulfillment energy fantasies go, discovering out you’re secretly a reincarnated god looks like a fairly satisfying one. In Netflix’s imported 2021 Chinese characteristic New Gods: Nezha Reborn, that revelation comes with a variety of advantages: the flexibility to outlive deadly wounds, the sudden emergence of kick-ass martial-arts powers, the respect and curiosity of the native power-players, and above all, the flexibility to rain down hearth on any disrespectful enemies. For a avenue child looking for his place in an oppressive metropolis run by a grasping crime gang, these all seem to be game-changing advantages, an infinite upside in a world the place few individuals have the energy to withstand the dominant order.
But energy in this type of story inevitably comes with a price, and Nezha Reborn will get to the price rapidly and definitively. The story, which revives and rewrites a handful of extraordinarily common characters from Chinese mythology, winds up specializing in the issues godlike energy can’t repair as a lot because it focuses on those the place white-hot cleaning hearth is useful. For all of the eye-popping battles and fast-moving motion, it’s an emotional story that takes the time to discover what its protagonist actually needs out of life, and why god-tier energy could also be as a lot of a burden as a profit.
Director Ji Zhao, who beforehand helmed the 2019 CGI characteristic White Snake, opens New Gods: Nezha Reborn with a fast abstract of the cosmos: Three thousand years in the past, the world was in chaos, with humanity and gods warring amongst themselves. The gods fought to ascertain a brand new hierarchy, which ultimately introduced the planet right into a queasy stability. But sure gods are at all times seeking to higher their place. In Donghai City, a neon-drenched fashionable city with a strongly retro vibe, 4 clans rule over the individuals, and particularly, management the restricted water provide. As Ao Bing, the third son of De Clan’s intimidating patriarch, says early on, holding the city in want offers the poor one thing to deal with and retains them in line: “Full bellies foster random thoughts.”
Keeping the individuals’s bellies empty means creating synthetic water shortages, which creates a distinct segment for water smugglers like Li Yunxiang, a younger man with a scorching mood and a Robin Hood ethos towards to the struggling slum-dwellers. Early on, screenwriter Mu Chuan lays out Yunxiang’s tangled issues: a father who hates his selections and holds him in contempt; a fussy brother who worries about him and tries to deliver him to heel; an employer who leads him into hazard; a love curiosity whose identify he doesn’t even know; a woman who’s a bit like a possessive however pushy sister. Yunxiang builds and races bikes in his spare time, which lets Nezha Reborn launch with a Ready Player One-style manic avenue competitors that defies the legal guidelines of physics, and offers Yunxiang one thing small and particular to care about in a world stuffed with a lot bigger and louder issues.
But then Yunxiang and Ao Bing face off over Yunxiang’s bike, in a set of sequences someplace between Akira and the early inciting incident in John Wick. As the wealthy, spoiled scion of Donghai City’s main ruler, Ao Bing naturally thinks something his eyes fall on needs to be his. Yunxiang disagrees. In speedy order, what begins as a small however doubtlessly deadly battle over respect and a motorcycle turns into a literal god-level battle, as Yunxiang discovers his secret heritage and energy. Problem is, after his violent exaltation, he has no thought learn how to entry or management his new talents, and he has to hunt assist among the many different secret powers of the world.
That course of entails some extraordinarily wealthy and fascinating animation. Nezha Reborn’s CG-animated characters hover just a bit too near practical to be completely convincing; they have an inclination to edge into the uncanny valley, fairly than being extra cartoonish in the best way of the CG leads in motion pictures like Lupin III: The First or How to Train Your Dragon. But the world round these characters is fashionable and vividly designed, in every thing from shining skyscrapers to mythological beasties to the glowing avatars that loom behind god-incarnate warriors once they draw on their heavenly powers. That opening race sequence is show-offy, compete with Yunxiang breaking the fourth wall to brag to the viewers, nevertheless it units the stage for a world that retains visually escalating, falling deeper and deeper into fantasy with every new battle and every wild new setting.
New Gods: Nezha Reborn attracts closely on pan-Asian folklore and delusion for its narrative backbone. Nezha particularly has been a popular character for centuries, evolving from god to basic to youngster to spirit in myths as disparate because the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, China’s 1979 animated hit Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, and the 2019 Chinese CGI characteristic Nez Ha, additionally at the moment streaming on Netflix. (That movie takes a way more slapstick-driven strategy to Nezha’s heavenly guardians particularly, and the visible strategy begins off cartoony and child-centered in comparison with Nezha Reborn. But it will definitely develops its personal resonant emotional drama and staggering motion sequences. The two movies make an pleasant double characteristic, simply to see two radically completely different interpretations of the identical basic characters.)
But within the New Gods incarnation, Nezha takes an nearly literal again seat to Yunxiang, whose issues are grounded and human. He needs to assist his struggling individuals, and he needs to earn his father’s respect. And as soon as his powers emerge, he has to face the truth that he’s harmful to the individuals he cares about. The powers he’s channeling and the spirit inside him are harmful and unstable fairly than therapeutic or nurturing. The story follows a monitor that’s acquainted in Western animation and Western video video games: Yunxiang inevitably finds greater bosses to combat at periodic intervals, and ranges up with each new battle. But he’s by no means completely free to think about his warfare as satisfying, pure, or righteous, the best way so many power-tree-climbing Western heroes do. Even as a temperamental younger man whose enemies are greedy, underhanded, and inhuman, he has to pause to contemplate the bodily and emotional price of his actions.
And when he inevitably fails in locations, that failure hits exhausting. Nezha Reborn is a startlingly emotional story, one which finds time between explosive battles to let Yunxiang weep over his losses, and ponder his place within the universe. The filmmakers equally discover time to let his allies and enemies have interaction with one another, mulling over the previous and the best way their relationships have advanced over the eons. For a two-hour motion film, Nezha Reborn is startlingly dense and efficient, and even surprisingly shifting.
Like most fables, it will definitely comes down on the predictable aspect of the cost-of-power debate. Ultimately, Yunxiang decides, being able to combat and alter the world is best than being powerless and afraid. It’s a logical sufficient conclusion, even outdoors the boundaries of fantasy tales involving reincarnating gods and dragons. But New Gods: Nezha Reborn really takes the time to provide the query some critical thought, which makes it a a lot richer and extra gratifying story than the standard magical-martial-arts throwdown.
New Gods: Nezha Reborn and Nez Ha are at the moment streaming on Netflix.