The Great Wall of China is series of walls on China’s north border stretching almost 4000 miles. Construction has been dated back to 220 BC with the purpose of protecting China’s borders from its enemies. It’s an imposing structure and the perfect setting for a movie. Yimou Zhang took the challenge with this week’s release of The Great Wall. Yimou Zhang is well respected for his directorial work in China and has slowly made impact in the western world. Several of his films have been Oscar nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. His most well-known film is 2004’s Hero staring Jet Li. The Great Wall is Zhang’s attempt to build a bridge between Chinese and American films.
European mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), plus 20 others, are searching for black powder in the deserts of China. Most of William’s group is killed during their expedition and William and Tovar encounter & kill something in the desert. While escaping roving bandits, they run into The Great Wall of China. They become embroiled in a battle against a horde of monstrous creatures. The Chinese Army on the Wall have trained and built weapons to fight these creatures, however William and Tovar’s skills as fighters are helpful to the Army.
Chinese action films are visually stunning, full of vivid colors and intricately choreographed fight scenes that draw your eyes all over the screen. In this respect The Great Wall will not disappoint. The movie uses CGI well, the monsters are well thought out, and one could believe the movie was really filmed at The Great Wall in China. I liked that the women were strong and fought right alongside the men throughout the film. Finally, I liked that the enemy is intelligent and adapts to the weapons the Imperial Army throws their way.
While I didn’t expect a fleshed-out plot or a story other than ‘watch us fight the monsters,’ I wanted more. It’s never clear to me when in history this story takes place, or how William and his cohorts came to be in this area of China. Maybe they could have delved into the soldier’s stories more. Matt Damon is just okay as the warrior for hire seeking redemption. Pedro Pascal plays a good foil to Damon. Willem Dafoe as Ballard perfectly strikes a balance between being helpful and achieving his personal goals. The Chinese actors pulled off their performances well, they had to act against creatures that aren’t there. Overall, however, the writing is weak, and several plot points were predictable. This predictably includes ‘the white man coming to the rescue’ trope, and the coward and the bully who doesn’t want the Europeans there are also present in this film.
This film is just mediocre, although fans of the genre may get more of it than I did. The film is spoken in both English and Chinese; there is extensive use of subtitles which can be distracting. The film will be available in 3D but that didn’t add much to the experience for me. I hope Yimou Zhang continues his efforts to break into western market as this grandiose epic type of film isn’t produced that often, but it needs a better script to be successful.
2 arrows out of 5