So that’s why the Great Wall of China was built………….lizard monsters!
Clocking in at over $150m in budget, The Great Wall is by far the biggest movie production to come out of the China, and with director Zhang Yimou at the helm, whose previous works include Hero & House of Flying Daggers. Can The Great Wall live up to all the commercial hype?
Unlike previous successes coming out from China, like Flying Daggers & Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this isn’t a martial arts movie. It’s an all-out fantasy, action movie! This makes a nice change from the usual Chinese movies that get a huge western release.
There has been a lot of controversy regarding the casting of Matt Damon in this film, with accusations of ‘whitewashing’ the film, so let’s just get that out the way now. Damon plays the role of a European traveler; he is not taking the role away from an Asian actor. The film is also produced in China, by China, and using a familiar face from Western movies in order to increase their marketing appeal is understandable. Also, it’s a work of fiction, so they can cast whoever they desire, as there is no source for them to follow.
The movie is set during the Song dynasty, following the challenges of the Nameless Order, a faction of the military who are stationed at the Great Wall of China to provide protection from a mysterious threat to humanity. Travelling merchants William (Matt Damon) & Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are on a mission to find the mysterious Black Powder, which can turn air to fire (in another word, gunpowder!). The plan is to find the weapon, and take it back to Europe to sell, but they are halted, and taken prisoners by the Order.
The greatest strength of the movie is by far the action set pieces. Whenever the monsters attack (known as the Tao Tei) the film bursts into life! The Nameless Order are split into several divisions, each army is colour coded depending on their tasks. Ranging for archery, close combat to the acrobatic Crane Corps. Every battle scene is a visual spectacle, and it’s clear that most of the budget went into the CGI. The coordination and choreography of the various armies are amazing to see. Each division has their own lieutenant, and it’s Commander Lin (Jing Tiang) of the Crane Corps that takes centre stage, along with our western prisoners.
It’s a shame that the movie doesn’t really take off following the initial monster attack, there was so much to see and learn, regarding each of the military factions, but the film doesn’t really go into detail too much. Only the Crane Corps get any real focus, at least they explained why their division is made up of entirely females.
Damon does a fairly standard job here, his role is nowhere near as intense as Bourne, or as charismatic as he was in The Martian. His interactions with Tovar (It’s Prince Oberyn from Game of Thrones!) are usually full of sarcasm and jest, and provide plenty of fun for the audience.
The addition of Sir Ballard (William Dafoe) seemed abit out of the blue, and his role could have been cut out entirely and really have made no difference. Fans of Asian cinema in the West will be happy to see Andy Lau also making an appearance here, as the chief strategist for the Order.
The film does go ridiculously over the top, and the final act is a monster melee! Any fans of monster movies out there will enjoy these moments, the action is pretty cheesy, and it’s full of cliché, but it does its job of entertaining you. The Great Wall is over 5,000 miles long, and we are never told if the Tao Tei attack just one part of the wall, are there Nameless Order defending the entire wall? Why is it just this spot that is attacked? We may never know!
The Great Wall is nothing new, the story line is pretty generic, there really isn’t much character development, and it doesn’t really add anything to the Monster genre. On the flip side, it is enjoyable from a popcorn flick point of view; the action scenes do enough to keep you paying attention, the opening half hour or so are pretty outstanding. The Great Wall isn’t notoriously bad, nor is it a classic to be remembered for years to come.