Film Review – The Great Wall (2017)
What was the reason for the construction of the Great Wall of China? According to this week’s new release, The Great Wall, it was to keep out a hoard of monsters attempting to attack China and then the rest of the world! With such a ridiculous premise, I went to the theater hoping for some absurd fun to start a weekend full of new releases. The following review will be spoiler free.
We follow William Garin (Damon) as the leader of group of European explorers in search of black powder. After a bizarre attack from an unknown creature, the only men left in the group are William and Pero (Pascal). Shortly after, the group is ambushed by a group of Chinese military soldiers that capture and imprison them. Our leads then get wrapped up in a battle with the army as they take on a horde of the creatures they saw earlier. In order to defend the land from utter destruction, William learns that he must let go of his past.
The first trailer for the movie unfortunately led to some unnecessary backlash towards the movie. The trailer failed to explain that Matt Damon was a Westerner traveling to the region in search of black powder, so when the trailer showed Damon in action along with many Chinese actors, many people cried that the film had undergone some whitewashing in order to add some star power to the movie.
Despite later promotional material fixing this issue, none of the trailers have struck a nerve with me which is a shame since this is the first American released movie for acclaimed Chinese director Yimou Zhang. Nominated for multiple Oscars for best foreign language film, Zhang has certainly built a fan base overseas, leading me to believe this film will certainly make back its $150 million budget and then some. However, whether the movie will be enjoyed in the good ol’ U.S of A remains to be seen.
What I Liked
Yimou Zhang is seen as a visionary director, and that is definitely on display during the major battles in The Great Wall. The costume design of the warriors works really well for the action set pieces because each different squadron wears different colored armor, making the screen full of color as soldiers dressed in all different colors fly all over the screen amidst giant green monsters and fireballs falling from the sky. Although the CGI of the monsters can easily take you out of the movie, the action, for the most part, keeps you somewhat invested in the movie until the action later becomes stale from an overabundance of terrible CGI and stupidity.
What I Didn’t Like
However, really nothing else is all that compelling. There is practically zero character backstory. The little development we get from the characters throughout the film feels incredibly forced and contrived. Other than a dump of exposition in a single scene that gives a thickly veiled explanation of his background, there’s no reason to root for Matt Damon’s character. While Damon isn’t whitewashing a Chinese character, his inclusion in the movie felt incredibly forced and an obvious plot device to attract a larger American audience to the theater.
You’re much more likely to care for the Chinese characters than any of the Westerners in the movie, making The Great Wall feel incredibly bland while doing more to bog down the movie than to add anything of substance to it.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued
Willem Dafoe is in this movie for some reason, and he’s completely wasted as a side character that could have been played by any actor. Dafoe and Pedro Pascal have a side plot together that has zero consequence to the movie and simply pads the run time. The film tries to add different angles to film to give it a more rewarding, rich experience, but these attempts fall very, very flat. One in particular, which includes a younger soldier and his redemption, had me laughing in the theater.
I can’t really recommend this movie for anything besides the visuals. The monsters have a dumb “twist” to them that we’ve seen before in movies where there’s an absurdly large opposing army. You would think that a film with such a ridiculous premise would at least entertain even if it’s not the best constructed piece of art, but The Great Wall does more to bore than excite. The one thing I was sure about going into this film was that it would be a crazy, fast-paced time, but I was sorely mistaken.
So, The Great Wall may be a visual treat, but it doesn’t do much else. It gets a D+. The movie is short enough where you might enjoy it a little when it airs on TV in a year to two, but I can’t recommend that you see The Great Wall in theaters. Save your money for March which has a ton of big movies coming out!
Thanks for reading! Have you seen The Great Wall? Did you think the movie was going to be bad? Comment down below with your thoughts!
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