The Great Wall – Style Over Substance

Matt Damon in a mostly Chinese film, how will it work out?

Synopsis:  When a mercenary warrior is imprisoned within the Great Wall, he discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of the world. As wave after wave of marauding beasts besiege the massive structure, his quest for fortune turns into a journey toward heroism as he joins a huge army of elite warriors to confront the unimaginable and seemingly unstoppable force. (IMDB)

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, and Pedro Pascal

Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy

Director: Yimou Zhang

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 103mins 

Trailer: 

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Everyone is probably aware of the controversy surrounding this film with a trio of caucasian actors among a predominately Chinese cast. Matt Damon stars along with Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe as foreigners who all stand out to the point that they are noticeable. They never seemed to ever fit within the story but that wasn’t completely their fault.

While evading capture, a pair of mercenaries named William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal) become entangled in a battle lasting centuries between a race of mysterious creatures and the warriors of the Nameless Order who preside over the Great Wall (of China). The film did not waste any time by throwing us directly into the story, foregoing any explanation while also sacrificing character development. This meant a lot of accepting what was going on which was easy to do, for the most part.

Despite being a big-budget, wide release film, it still felt like a B-movie with higher production value. The story was more on the ridiculous side like most monster movies and both the dialogue and characters were also on the cheesy side. That was okay, however, as there was still some enjoyment to be had. The story itself wasn’t the most original, making it predictable.

Being a Chinese film, it did a great job staying true to Chinese culture. From tying the story with Chinese folklore, to the set design and the costumes, everything had a sense of authenticity. This was further emphasized by the film’s production values. The cinematography was excellent, bringing the world the life while giving the film an epic scope and feel (which would probably be good in IMAX). The sheer scope of the film meant the use of CGI in certain areas. The closer the monsters got, the worse they looked.

The film was exciting to watch but it was difficult to get engaged on a personal level because there was just a little too much going on or even care about the underdeveloped characters. The film had a surprisingly short running time at 103 minutes (I was expecting well over 120 minutes) so more time may have helped with this. Damon was miscast as the lead with an awkward performance as William but he was still the best here. Everyone else was okay but they did not inspire much excitement.

Overall, this was a decent action film with its amazing set pieces and production values overtaking its okay performances and rather pedestrian story.

Score: 6.5/10

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