The Great Wall
Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Hanyu Zhang and Willem Dafoe
Running Time: 1hr 43mins
1700 years to build. 5500 miles long. What were they trying to keep out?
In 10th century China, a group of travellers searching for a mythical ‘black powder’ weapon encounter a beast at night that starts to kill their men. The last surviving members (Damon and Pascal) manage to defeat it, taking its severed arm with them so they can ask villagers what it is, but are pursued by hostile bandits. Escaping, the two find themselves at a great wall manned by a huge army and are about to be executed to keep the army’s existence secret, when the arm is discovered among their belongings. The General of the army, alarmed that the beasts have returned early, is surprised that they managed to defeat one, and spares their lives. The two learn that the ‘Tao Tie’ as they are called, are an army of beasts that will soon attempt to breach the wall and spread unchecked across the world, and when the Tao Tie attack earlier than expected the two are forced to choose whether to try and escape or to join the fight.
With a reported budget of $135 million, The Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese filmed movie to ever be made, and with the inclusion of actors Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe, an attempt has been made to make the movie attractive to western audiences while still keeping the movie grounded in the east with a cast of equally popular Chinese actors. With characters speaking in multiple languages and the diverse cast, the movie has a foot firmly in each world – something which has been attempted numerous times before – often with a disappointing or even confusing culture clashing result. Fortunately, for the most part – at least from a western point of view – that is not the case with The Great Wall.
While watching the movie, you can’t help but be reminded of elements from such movies as 47 Ronin, Outlander, Starship Troopers and The 13th Warrior – and before you consider those as negative strikes against the movie, some of them – while not box office successes when originally released – have gone on to become cult favourites and even 47 Ronin and especially The 13th Warrior are movies that were enjoyed by this reviewer. The movie is admittedly derivative of the above and more in a similar way to how the Tom Cruise-starring Oblivion owes a debt to the likes of Independence Day and Moon. Similarly The Great Wall adds nothing new to these elements, and yet still manages to be an entertaining movie for its under-two-hour running time.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of problems. There are definite signs of a troubled production in the editing of the movie, with signs of edits made to either speed along the pacing of the story, or to cut down a lengthy running time, and as a result some plotlines are set up and either dropped completely or resolved off-screen with our only explanation being the end outcome of said plotline. One thing the movie does well is to keep the technical exposition to a minimum (no sign of any ‘midiclorians’ found here George), with well designed action set-pieces that treats medieval-type weaponry as a matter of fact and just shows such weapons in use rather than explaining how they work. A good example of this is the use of ‘whistling’ arrows in a scene which makes good use of the movies’ surround sound mix to good effect.
While there is an attempt to make this a visually epic movie (some of the effects require a suspension of disbelief), it is not Oscar material, nor does it claim to be. This is a creature feature action movie and everybody involved knows it. It’s filled with the numerous clichés that make up this kind of movie. Damon is front and centre and clearly having fun, but not doing anything that requires fully flexing his acting muscles (though he is doing more than Dafoe who gives a perfunctory ‘paycheck’ performance – though we’re way above Dog Eat Dog level here). It’s not a bad movie, but going in with high expectations will result in disappointment, go in prepared for a solid B-movie and fun will be had.
3 out of 5 Nerds