Chinese director, Yimou Zhang, has directed some truly stunningly gorgeous films in the past and three come to mind; Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. I have seen all three and enjoyed them immensely. They were beautifully shot with tremendous action scenes and extraordinary set pieces that added color and life to these films. Now, to be honest, I was not jazzed to see his latest film, The Great Wall which stars Matt Damon as a soldier of fortune, lost in China while trying to find “black powder” or gun powder. William (Damon) and his friend, Tovar (Pedro Pascal) end up captured by warring Chinese armies defending their wall from CGI lizard-looking iguanas. Where did these creatures come from? Were they on the same island as Godzilla, take in too much radiation and spawn into hundreds of millions?
Now, before I get the sticklers who tell me Godzilla was from Japan, not China….I know that. I was illustrating the point that they look positively ridiculous and are given no back story at all. Your guess is as good as mine, as to where they came from. Not much in The Great Wall makes sense, really. This is supposedly the most expensive film in China’s history, costing an impressive 150 million dollars to produce. Securing Matt Damon as its star was supposed to put some butts into the seats of theaters in order to sell this film to America. But make no mistake about it, The Great Wall is an atrocious mess and no one could save this film. I was not crazy about seeing it but, was able to use a free ticket on my Regal account and still, I came out thoroughly disappointed.
Disappointed, to say the least. Where do I begin? Well, for starters there is no character development at all. Everyone is just thrown into the mix and they come together rather quickly to ensure a rather quick run time of an hour and forty-nine minutes. No one is given any depth or dimension. Damon speaks with a rather odd accent that comes and goes and as for the Chinese characters, not one is distinguishable from another, other than their gender. Willem Dafoe makes a brief appearance but there is no depth to his character, either. Anyone could have played these characters since there is nothing that makes them special, therefore there is no one that I was able to connect to as a character and care about. Everyone is reacting to CGI, nothing of substance is happening and there is no real sense of wonder or mystery in The Great Wall other than it spans 550 miles and took 1700 years to build. That is explained in the first line of this film and after that it could be any wall they are referring to.
The action is nice to look at and the color pallet is attractive, but the vitality and life of this film has been sucked out by the over-abundance of CGI. Everything and everyone suffocates underneath the weight of production values. Why have such A-list performers like Damon, Andy Lau, Dafoe, Tian Jing and Kenny Lin around and give them very little to do, substantively? The script was penned by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy (who has clashed with Damon on a couple of the Jason Bourne films, in the past. That is why there was one with Jeremy Renner) and it is truly horrendous. There is not one element of the script that gives any context to these characters and turns them into people. To my absolute horror, the story was concocted by Max Brooks, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. Edward Zwick? Are you serious? It would explain why The Great Wall has a Last Samurai kind of feel to it.
I am not one to cry “white-wash” when it comes to American actors in foreign films, as was the claim for Zwick’s outstanding film The Last Samurai which starred Tom Cruise. I have always felt that was an unfair and easy criticism for a film. That is, until The Great Wall. There is no reason that I can think of, story-wise, that Damon should be here. The casts of other of Mr. Zhang’s films were completely Chinese and American audiences loved them. Here, Damon comes across as the American savior of the Chinese people and it is insulting. The filmmakers did not have enough faith in their own material to even be authentic to their own people and culture. The Great Wall, production values and a solid score by Ramin Djawadi aside, is an utter and complete waste of time and money. Save both by going to see John Wick: Chapter 2. Even if you have already seen John Wick, see it again before wasting anything on The Great Wall.
The Great Wall – * out of five
The Great Wall – Rated PG-13 for action, scenes of peril, some graphic violence
The Great Wall – Run Time is 109 minutes
If you still are interested, The Great Wall is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations.