Director: Zhang Yimou
Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy
Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Lu Han, Hanyu Zhang, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Xuan Huang, Ryan Zheng, Karry Wang and Willem Dafoe.
Synopsis: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The Great Wall received a lot, and I mean a lot, of criticism when the trailer was released showing Matt Damon surrounded by Asian actors and by the look of it, saving them and China from monsters. After all of it, director Zhang Yimou and Andy Lau came out and said that was not the case, and that the character was always written to be non-Asian, but people still were angry – without watching the film. Now, that the film is out, I know people will still keep to their stance not seeing past Damon’s casting, but if you can get past that – especially seeing that Damon is the true savior of China in the film – we get a descent and passable action film.
The film follows William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), mercenaries that came from Europe to China seeking the fabled “black powder” to make them rich. However, they find The Great Wall of China instead with a massive army inside that call themselves The Nameless Order. Once within, they discover that China is under attack from monsters the Order have called the Tao Tei. Once they prove themselves to the Generals, including Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), they are recruited to stop the monsters from breaching the Great Wall and attacking the world. However, Tovar and William are conflicted once the fight becomes more dangerous. Tovar wants to complete the mission they were on, while William wants to stay and fight.
People will have their opinions about The Great Wall, but the way I looked at it – without spoiling it of course – Damon’s William isn’t the “White Savior” many thought he would be. Does he play a factor to the end game? Yes, there’s no denying that, but at least from what I saw, he isn’t the key to killing the monsters like many thought or the trailers would have you believe. Is he special? Sure, he’s really good with a bow. That’s it. Once you get past Damon’s weird accent, and sometimes what feels like wooden acting, William is a character drawn to two worlds. He’s a mercenary that kills for others and money, but once he meets The Nameless Order and Commander Lin, he sees there are other reasons to fight.
When it comes to the rest of the cast Pedro Pascal has great chemistry with Damon, and because of that I wished he had more screen time. Tian Jing’s Commander Lin has some great moments scattered throughout, and being the only real female character in the film it was good to see. Also, she’s not a love interest! She does have an effect on Damon’s William, but it more of a respect than romantic – although you can make the argument probably. Willem Dafoe on the other hand is pretty much wasted here. Besides adding some insight in what is going on, he doesn’t really do anything and could have been played by anyone else.
When it comes to the action, it’s pretty good despite the massive amount of CGI monsters. That shouldn’t be too surprising considering the man that directed this in Zhang Yimou. From films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the action is pretty great and filled with great cinematography, and heart-pounding score that Zhang is accustomed to. Moreover, when it comes to the creatures, the designs aren’t that bad and their design makes them difficult to fill as well. Also, the fact that most TV spots or trailers never really fully showed them off was impressive.
All in all, people are going to have their opinions on The Great Wall as a film and politically, which is fine. I just hope people can look past that and find some enjoyment in the film. It’s not perfect, most of the characters don’t get enough screen time or are not even developed at all, and there a small subplot that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t do really anything for the film – at least personally. But, the end game of it all, the film is a passable action film.
The Great Wall
3.5 out of 5