I wonder how this movie came about. Like, is this some kind of folklore legend in China, or something? A fantasy story parents tell their kids to avoid telling them the grim historical reasons of why the wall was built? Sort of like how we tell kids that babies come from the storks instead of sperm and eggs? Or in all likelihood, someone simply wanted to just screw with history and create a throwaway action movie to rip off LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002). I’m guessing it’s the latter. But I won’t lie, this looks pretty fun.
So how about that cast, eh? Starring is Matt Damon. How does one talk about this man? He is probably one of the most recognized and most beloved actors in Hollywood. While I’m positive that most people mostly associate him with his incredible turn in GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), I only ever see him as Jason Bourne from the Bourne franchise, and yes, I did enjoy JASON BOURNE (2016). But more than his action films and dramatic roles, the man has proven to be a jack of all trades and have a serious knack for comedy as well, like in DOGMA (1999) or THE MARTIAN (2015). That’s not to say the man’s highly successful career wasn’t met with a couple blunders. HAPPY FEET TWO (2011) was quickly forgotten. And who even really remembers STUCK ON YOU (2003)? But these are pretty far inbetween and he always pops back better than ever if it happens. While I’m not expecting the performance of a lifetime out of him here, I still suspect I’ll enjoy him enough. In support, we have Pedro Pascal (THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU , video game DISHONORED 2, and TV show NARCOS, and will be in the upcoming KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE ), Andy Lau (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS ), and the ever amazing Willem Dafoe (FINDING DORY , THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL , and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films).
Now for the crew. Directing is Yimou Zhang, known for THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2011), HERO (2002), and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. Aaaand red flags. Three writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy. Both Bernard and Miro are known for THE UNINVITED (2009), PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (2010), and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010), and are slated to write NATIONAL TREASURE 3, due out… who knows when. Gilroy is known for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016), the Bourne films from IDENTITY (2002) to LEGACY (2012), and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007). Composing the music is Ramin Djawadi, known for WARCRAFT (2016), PACIFIC RIM (2013), and TV show GAME OF THRONES. Finally, co-cinematographers and Stuart Dryburgh and Xiaoding Zhao. Dryburgh is known for ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016), NIM’S ISLAND (2008), and ÆON FLUX (2005), and Zhao is known for THE FLOWERS OF WAR, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006), and HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS.
Initial reviews seem to be about what I’d expect it to be. IMDb has it at a 6.3/10 (as of 2/8/2017), and RottenTomatoes has it at 44% (as of 2/8/2017). So yeah, not expecting it to be a good movie, but I hope for something entertaining. Plus, Damon’s always great talent to have.
This is my honest opinion of: THE GREAT WALL
William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are European mercenaries on the hunt for a fabled black powder in China that has explosive properties that will shift the course of power in Europe. However, they were ambushed by natives and an unseen creature, and eventually escape to find themselves faced with a gigantic wall, filled to the brim with soldiers, The Nameless Order, readying themselves for a great battle sixty years in the making against those same creatures, called Taotie. William is convinced by one of the more respected soldiers, Commander Lin (Tian Jing), to fight for their cause, but Tovar wants to steal the black powder that these Nameless Order have. As tensions rise and the battle gets more intense, choices must be made as the fate of China rests in the hands of those defending the wall.
If you looked at this trailer and thought, “This is going to be a stupid, but fun fantasy/action flick,” then that’s about exactly what you’d get. That’s exactly what I expected, that’s what I got, so I got my money’s worth.
Yes, there’s a ton of movies this rips from. THE TWO TOWERS (2002), WORLD WAR Z (2013), STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997), so don’t expect a whole lot of originality, other than taking those ideas and maybe slightly expanding on them for one scene.
Let’s talk about those expanded ideas. In the movies mentioned above, all of these films feature some sort of stronghold being overrun with whatever force is trying to kill them. TWO TOWERS just used big-ass ladders and the enemies would ride the tops of the ladders to the top of the wall and start climbing up. STARSHIP TROOPERS, and later WORLD WAR Z did those same legions of mindless enemies piling on top of each other, scrambling to the top. The one thing both films had in common: keep the good guys on the wall and defend it that way. This movie “shakes things up” by adding bright colors and the enemies actually kind of working together to help each other out. By the way, the creatures are called the Taotie, but I’m pretty sure it’s spelled differently in the movie. I just can’t remember, but this will be the spelling I’ll go with. Anyway, the Taotie do the WORLD WAR Z and STARSHIP TROOPERS thing by piling on top of each other to reach the top. However, this movie does do something a little original with the set-up: have special soldiers specifically designed to keep the enemies off the wall.
Unfortunately, this is also my first real problem: the soldiers aren’t very effective. They literally bungee jump from diving boards and stab at the Taotie with one or two spears, come back up for more spears hoping to not be dead to go again. Bungee, reload, hope for best, repeat. First of all, if one soldier is skilled enough to dual-wield, they should all be proficient enough. More spears, more bodies to stab with. Easy math. I’m sure the idea is that the spears are sharp enough to impale multiple Taotie, but yeah, only one spear? Come on, y’all. Second, I think this is such a fool-hardy strategy because there’s literally too many creatures to stab. One would think these “crane squad soldiers” jumping into this hoard… one jump and they’d just all die right there and then. It’s a miracle that there were survivors that lasted the battle, let alone that first jump. They don’t realistically kill enough Taotie to make a dent in their numbers.
What makes this even more baffling is that the Order has other contraptions to deal with these monsters when they scramble up the wall. They can split a part of the wall open and slide out pairs of giant blades and criss cross them in a scissoring motion, which seems to work extraordinarily well. The Taotie are completely incapable of stopping this and have no defense against it. So… why didn’t the Order break that shit out in the first battle? Use the scissors to deal with the mass hoards and use the crane squad to deal with the few lucky monsters that get past the blades. No bungee jumping necessary!
To be fair on both complaints, those bungee scenes are pretty cool and those giant scissors are awesome to witness cutting the monsters into bits.
That’s pretty much what the movie banks it’s viewership on: the cool factor. Like I said before, the armor the Order wears, the blue, the red, it’s all very bad-ass in appearance and does admittedly make it easy to follow who is who. Surprisingly, not every action film with clashing armies make that distinction, but this one’s pretty decent in that. Damon as a bad-ass archer, is admittedly pretty bad-ass. Not his greatest performance, but I don’t think anyone was expecting that out of him here. He’s fine for what he’s given, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing. I saw this movie with a co-worker, neither of us truly know what kind of accent he was supposed to be sporting. And my buddy, who is a history buff of sorts, was pretty dumbfounded on where these characters were supposed to be from. Jing is actually the standout performer, if you ask me. Never mind the shiny blue armor, which will be so engraved into my memory that I will probably think she’s a better looking Blue Ranger than the actual Blue Ranger from the upcoming movie POWER RANGERS (2017), but she does feel like the one character that has something worth caring about. She’s a dedicated and accomplished soldier, proficient in battle, respected among the other troops, the only one that speaks English… for some reason. I don’t know, I enjoyed her character and she stole the show for me.
In fact, that’s another thing I wanted to tap on. Throughout the flick, you’d think this story would result in William and Lin going cliché; hooking up at some point. But… no. They don’t. They share chemistry, and I think a relationship is somewhat implied, but no kiss or “I love you” is ever exchanged. Not even so much as a, “In another life, another time, if things were different,” none of that. It’s really quite astounding. Very few action-oriented movies featuring an attractive male and an attractive female, no screenwriter – or studio exec – ever resists having them suck face at some point. I’m remarkably relieved that this never transpired in the film.
Oh, I’m also going to do a quick mention of Lu Han. Who is that? Well, on a personal level, I don’t know, but I have a co-worker who’s a big fan of the guy, so I’m doing this for her. Han, apparently, used to be part of some K-Pop band. He went solo, I think, and has dabbled in acting as well. If I’m not mistaken, he is currently one of China’s most popular entertainers, be it in music or film. Well, he’s made his way to the US for this flick and I have to say… yeah, dude’s a solid enough actor. I mean, his character Peng Yong isn’t a new or ground-breaking role or anything, but he works well with what he’s given. Peng is that young soldier who tries to be all he can be, but is kind of a screw up. I have to admit, though… when he screws up and gets chastised for his actions, you kind of feel sorry for him. He looks genuinely disappointed in himself. He’s also got a nice little connection with William, the two being kind of friends, and I wish that relationship was developed a little more, but he’s a likable character, so kudos for competent writing, acting, and possibly direction.
“But wait, Daniel! What about all the historical inaccuracies?! Don’t those piss you off?!” I bet this is a topic some of you would like me to talk about. I would, but here’s the problem. I am uncultured swine. I wasn’t a very good student in school, and history was one of my worst courses. Too bored to care. So I imagine if I knew anything about ancient China, I’d be furious like everyone else seems to be. But as I said, my friend that I saw this movie with, is very smart. So I’ll just let reflect on what he mentioned. Some paraphrasing may occur. “Why is the Great Wall in the middle of the desert? It was all jungle, man.” Um… actually, that’s all I remembered him saying. He was essentially teaching me history and I was zoning out mid-sentences. Rest assured, he probably agrees with you folks. As for me, I don’t care. You have to go into this movie like you would go into seeing 300 (2006); not meant to be taken seriously or accurately. Just mindless fun and some stylized action. No one should go into this to be educated.
And that’s the best way to describe this movie: dumb, but fun. It’s thoroughly entertaining. It’s admittedly well shot, well directed, and pretty exciting when the action turns up. No, neither it’s story nor setting are original, but again… who’s going in for that? Watch the trailer, guys. You’re going to decide pretty quickly if this is the kind of movie for you. Think it’s going to misrepresent history? It probably will, so don’t pay money to see it. But if you’re anything like me and you simply want to see a fun, fantasy-action with Damon archering monsters to death, then I think you’ll get your money’s worth. I sure did.
PS: Bearded Matt Damon is a cinematic gift from Mt. Olympus. It’s only for the first ten, fifteen minutes, but by all that is holy and sacred is it an epic ten or fifteen minutes.
My honest rating for THE GREAT WALL: 3/5