The Great Wall is Chinese and US fantasy monster film starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary who winds up getting embroiled in Chinese soldiers fight against monsters at The Great Wall of China. The film was directed by Zhang Yimou, the Chinese director behind films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero, one of my all time favourites.
Clearly the US side of production wanted to bring on Damon as a big name American actor, the film also features Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe as western characters, and Jing Tian and Andy Lau as the principle Chinese cast members. I always feel that it’s a shame that Hollywood feels the need to put a big name white actor in, rather than letting this be a Chinese lead film. It doesn’t need a white saviour, and as I’ll get into later it would probably have made for a more interesting film. This lead to an awful lot of controversy before the film came out, and as a result the film had to be good to make up for this.
And it just isn’t. I’m a fan of the wuxia films that Yimou has made, particularly Hero. The films are so beautifully shot and the action is fantastic and varied. Sadly that’s not the case with The Great Wall. There are some cool visual aspects to the film, particularly the Crane Troops’ Wall dives, but there isn’t enough of it for the film to be memorable. On top of this the action quickly becomes stale, there are only so many times you can watch a monster jump at a character in slow motion.
But the even bigger problem with The Great Wall is the story just isn’t interesting. When you have a Monster film, and the antagonist is just a motivationless hoard the characters and their dynamics have to be really interesting. Damon, Pascal, and Dafoe’s characters are planning to escape from the Wall, a storyline that ends up taking up a fair amount of time without really going anywhere or offering a satisfying resolution. It means that the main story really suffers, and none of the Chinese characters outside of Jing Tian’s Commander Lin Mae have any discernible characterisation, which makes it hard to really care about what is happening.
The Great Wall wanted to be a film with a big message about The Greed of Man and how it corrupts people, but this didn’t resonate at all. It gets lost amongst two storylines and flashy visuals. But the film still has a very serious tone as it tries to relay its message. This just leads to it being a fairly boring watch as there isn’t any fun to the film. When you’ve got an army defending a wall against monsters, fun is surely the least you could expect from it. But even Damon seems bored in the film giving a really lacklustre performance that’s only notable for the atrocious accent.
I think that The Great Wall is a pretty disappointing film, there could be a really fun and interesting monster film based around The Great Wall of China, but instead we get a dull, self-serious, mess. When you consider the director’s past films this is a very poor effort from a talented filmmaker.