Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jang, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau
European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defence of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures. (Source: IMDb)
It is usually (although not exclusively) somewhat of a hint that a film being sold in its trailer as being from a “visionary director” is one which is using its visuals as it’s main draw. With Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers (2004), Hero (2002)) in the director chair, you can expect stunning visuals aplenty, and in that sense, The Great Wall doesn’t disappoint.
The visuals in places are really quite stunning, a nice distraction from the mess of everything else. There were a few brief moments when what was seen on screen was so gorgeous that I wished it could be paused for a time so I could enjoy and appreciate it even more. The use of colour is highly effective with the various factions of the Chinese army having their own bold colour schemes, and this really helped the visuals to pop in what could’ve been quite dreary otherwise.
The fight choreography is particularly excellent as well, and Zhang really knows how to work the camera to make the most of some of these stunning shots. It is sadly let down in places by some terrible CGI, but we’ll come to that later. However when the focus is on characters, rather than monsters, the effects are on the whole, pretty great.
The Chinese actors can’t be faulted as such, it’s not their fault they have a terrible script to work with, and Tian Jang is particularly watchable as Commander Lin Mae.
This probably somewhat comes under the bad heading, but there’s a great game to be played whilst watching The Great Wall – namely, which accent is Matt Damon attempting to do right now?!
This film isn’t the car crash some people are making it out to be, but it is far from “great”. Matt Damon is trying his darnedest but all he really succeeds in doing is demonstrating a string of inexplicably untraceable accents, none of which seem to fit the character or make sense in the context of the story-line. He’s phoning it in for sure, and does absolutely nothing to stand out or do something different. Matt Damon is a great actor and even he could’ve done something more with this character, despite the terrible script being a major hindrance. Pedro Pascal is equally wooden, and just what the heck is Willem Dafoe doing in this? I’d say it’s a swing and a miss but he isn’t really swinging for anything, so basically it’s just a miss! With these three in particular, the acting is really quite terrible; in a strange way they should’ve realised this film wasn’t going to be great and hammed it up as much as possible! At least then it might’ve been vaguely entertaining.
The script is unbelievably hackneyed, so unoriginal and by the numbers, which when paired with the hokey acting, and the lazy plot, doesn’t make for the most interesting of watches. Visually it is fairly on point, but everything else just lets it down majorly. The visuals are a welcome distraction from the terribleness of pretty much everything else!
Whilst visually it is not without merit, the CGI of the monsters is absolutely terrible. It is almost as if all of the budget was spent on making the fight scenes look good (which isn’t unappreciated, don’t get me wrong), and then the pennies that were left over were spent on the monsters. They look cheap and awful, like a bad video game, and this completely took me out of the moment on several occasions.
The story is absolute nonsense as well, and is totally laughable. Like the outrageously terrible Gods of Egypt (2016), there is at least some enjoyment to be had in how awful it is. In a plot which is essentially one long, highly stylised action fight scene, there really isn’t much else going on, and character development is a complete afterthought. There’s something about a magic powder and magnets (no really!) but I couldn’t tell you much more than that.
I saw this movie so you don’t have to. It isn’t the dumpster fire that many have stated, but it really isn’t very good at all. There’s some entertainment value to be had in laughing at Matt Damon’s interchangeable accents and Willem Dafoe’s bizarre performance, and the rest of the cast are trying awfully hard to make the best of one of the worst scripts in recent memory, but it is not enough to save it. In some ways a harmless piece of popcorn entertainment, but it is instantly forgettable, inconsequential and definitely not one to rush out and see. Maybe next time Matt Damon!