Photo Credit: Paramount+ (via YouTube)

The Tiger’s Apprentice Review: A Rushed Adventure

When you think of the best animation studios in Hollywood, your mind likely does not go straight to Paramount Animation. Ever since the Oscar-nominated Anomalisa, this studio has found itself languishing in box office failure with Monster Trucks, Sherlock Gnomes, and Wonder Park. It’s no wonder their latest films have gone either direct to VOD or streaming on Paramount+. The Tiger’s Apprentice is the latest in the studio’s feeble attempts to make a strong impression on the genre, with wonderful intentions behind this film that get lost in the execution.

Based on Laurence Yep’s 2023 novel, this movie follows Tom Lee (Brandon Soo Hoo), a Chinese-American boy who must protect a phoenix egg. As an Asian-American person, it’s always great to see this culture represented onscreen. The protagonist looks and dresses like me. There’s a lot about this movie that I should have loved, but The Tiger’s Apprentice falters due to how familiar it feels. It’s an amalgamation of every storyline and character trope that you’ve seen in other films, with nothing unique about it besides how it explores Chinese culture. Although it’s fun to showcase Chinese people through the lens of a superhero film, there isn’t enough here to distinguish it from what you’ve seen.

There’s a lot here that feels like the most simple, traditional execution of a story. An early scene features Tom getting roughed up by a bully in school when he suddenly uses a superpower to fend him off. Soon after, he hangs out with a girl he might have a crush on. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because you already saw it in the 2002 Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire. The storyline afterward surrounds Tom being given an object of supreme magical power and needing to protect it from the villains who are after it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it in tons of movies, including last year’s Blue Beetle.

Soon enough, Tom finds himself on an adventure with a more experienced mentor, Mr. Hu (Henry Golding). If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it in Star Wars, The Matrix, and in perhaps the most accurate comparison, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. They butt heads, exchange some banter, and eventually form a bond. This is the type of movie that does everything you expect but with much less of the quality. Part of that is the fact that this film is a mere 83 minutes long, including credits. When you have a film that goes by that fast, you’re basically just hopping from story beat to action sequence to story beat without slowing down to breathe.

That prevents the characters from feeling as if they have complete journeys. The so-called bond that forms between Tom and Hu does not land, which is an issue because there are story beats that ask you to really care about these two. Unfortunately, they are no Miles Morales and Peter B. Parker. Furthermore, Tom’s relationship with a possible love interest never gets the treatment it deserves, with that storyline also feeling rushed and unsatisfactory. We don’t really see their relationship grow and evolve in a meaningful way either because the movie is breezing by.

Fortunately, there are a few cultural details here that are fun to see. From the characters drinking boba together to the fights, which feel inspired by both modern superhero fare and classic wuxia. There are bits of Mandarin all over this movie, and one moment that resonated with me was when the more fluent speakers jokingly corrected Tom’s pronunciation of a certain word. The stakes in The Tiger’s Apprentice feel high but vague. Before you know it, we’re in our big final battle, and it’s never a boring movie. This film can be entertaining often, but the comedy isn’t as strong as it should have been, and the drama falls short as well. There are moments that are supposed to be crowd-pleasing that end up cringe-worthy instead. To add salt to the wound, some of the voice performances can be a bit flat.

But The Tiger’s Apprentice offers a stacked cast. We have Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh as Loo. She really commits to her villainous role here. Throw in Lucy Liu, Henry Golding, Brandon Soo Hoo, Golden Globe winner Sandra Oh, Golden Globe failure Jo Koy, Sherry Cola from last year’s Joy Ride, Leah Lewis from last year’s Elemental, Greta Lee from last year’s Past Lives, and more. It seems like the only Asians missing from this cast are Awkwafina and Randall Park. Most of the performances in this ensemble are fine, but there isn’t always much on the page. The film introduces the idea of having a group of characters who exist as the 12 zodiac animals. It’s not dissimilar to the Spider-People from the Spider-Verse series, but it doesn’t work as well here because the characters generally don’t feel distinct, nor are they particularly funny.

All in all, The Tiger’s Apprentice is a predictable movie that never packs the punch it should have, even if it offers middling entertainment in its animated superhero action sequences.

SCORE: 5/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5 equates to “Mediocre.” The positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.

Disclosure: ComingSoon received a screener for our The Tiger’s Apprentice review.

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