If you have ever wondered why the Great Wall of China was built, just a heads up that this is not a historically accurate movie. It is more believable the Wall was built to keep the rabbits out of China than Giant Lizard Monsters. This Fantasy film is about European mercenaries who travel to China in search of the Black Powder Weapon but are then caught up in an ancient conflict between the Nameless Order, an elite Chinese Military force and the Tao Tei, giant lizard monsters symbolic of mans greed. Yimou Zhang, who has directed brilliant films in the past with House of Flying Daggers and Hero, directs the Great Wall, which also stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing and Willem Dafoe.
Despite the bizarre premise to this movie the first half is actually quite impressive, with great visuals, awesome fighting choreography and even some great acting. It really was a lot of fun. The big stand out was the relationship between William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal) as the two loyal friends who constantly bicker and argue but work so well together. This is one part of the film that feels very natural but unfortunately in the second half of the movie the filmmakers go down a predictable route with their friendship. The action in the first half is pretty awesome too, with the being a few moments that just make you go ‘wow.’ There is a very well choreographed battle sequence which is one of the best Army sequences in recent film, from the design to the fighting styles, this battle is beautiful.
The marketing for this film was terrible, where people had no idea what the movie was about and why a white man (Matt Damon) would be needed to save China. I’ll start off by addressing the elephant in the room; this is not white washing or is it a case of white heroism. Matt Damon plays William a European mercenary who travels to China searching for Black Powder (Gun Powder) and gets caught up in the conflict. He is perfect for the role and gives a solid performance so that argument needs to go away. One thing the movie failed to market was the awesome female lead in Tian Jing as Commander Lin who is incredible in her action roles and also performs as a high calibre actress. She is the perfect female lead in an action movie as someone who stands equal to the male characters and performs some awesome action sequences. Her story is perhaps the most fascinating and would have been great to spend more time with this awesome character.
You can’t fault this movie for what it tries to be, but fault it for how it fell into the traps of the modern Hollywood blockbuster failures. With out spoiling the movie there are aspects that are seen throughout so many Hollywood movies that are extremely overused. The concept that the enemy army has a Queen that needs to be killed in order to win is somewhat required for this movie but is so over used throughout blockbuster films that it feels more like lazy writing than a strong plot point. There are a few scenes that are well made but do nothing to serve the plot; one scene in particular really annoyed me since it could have had a greater impact had Damon’s character followed the suggestions from the previous scenes. This movie must have blown its budget with Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe, as the CGI Tao Tei (Giant Lizard Monsters) was really bad. There are maybe a few shots that work but for the most part they are not scary monsters or even realistic. Which is a real shame since the Chinese Army looks stunning with all the different colours used for unit designation.
Despite some good characters, one character that is completely obsolete is Willem Dafoe as Ballard, a European trapped at The Great Wall with plans to escape. The character though really adds nothing to the plot, and in fact takes away some of the value of the other characters. It is not Dafoe’s fault but there really was no reason for his character other than to explain why some of the Chinese soldiers could speak English.
Unfortunately this film does not quite know what it wants to be since it is neither a clever action story nor a switch you brain off blockbuster. The Great Wall gets a pass mark from me due to the strong first half, good dynamic between Damon and Pascal and some stunning visuals. The lack of story development and bad CGI really does hurt this film, plus many of the bad Hollywood tropes find their way into the movie, which really brings the whole film down.
The Great Wall scores a P with 55%
Thank you for reading my review. Let me know what you thought in the comments below. Do you plan to see The Great Wall? Did you love/hate it?
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