Monsters are everywhere you look. Except the literal ones. Yeah, those things don’t exist.
While on a long, far-reaching search for black powder, mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) hold-up one night and encounter something strange, mysterious and deadly. They are able to chop off a piece of its arm, carrying it around with them everywhere they go, even if they don’t fully know just what it actually is. Then, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called “the Nameless Order”. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), the Nameless Order has been making it their mission to taking out any sort of threat that has come their way, but as of late, it’s been these odd, very vicious and disgusting monsters that, are also of the same kind that William and Tovar ran into that one night. That’s why, rather than killing the two, the Nameless Order decide to take the guys in, asking them for a helping hand in taking down these monsters, once and for all. It’s easy for William, but for Tovar, not so much.
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the Great Wall for a rather understandable reason: Matt Damon’s casting in the lead role seems like, yet again, another instance of Hollywood being too scared of casting any sort of minority in a lead role, that they just give it to the next big name, who also happens to be white. Hey, it’s happened before and it will definitely happen again. However, in the Great Wall, it’s not all that justified for a few reasons:
- Damon’s character in the movie is actually supposed to be white and isn’t supposed to be Chinese, therefore, making him a suitable actor for the character’s supposed race.
- Nobody really seems to have gotten all that mad that, included in this movie’s large international cast, Willem Dafoe (a white guy), is here, as well as Pedro Pascal (an Hispanic man) – two people who, last I checked, aren’t actually in the least bit Chinese.
- The movie itself is not meant to be taken seriously under any circumstances and because of that, it’s really hard to get mad at it for anything, let alone its casting decisions.
- And yeah, it’s just a silly movie.
Which is to say that, despite all of this, the Great Wall is still an enjoyable movie, although yes, incredibly stupid once you realize that it’s actually about a bunch of warriors, facing-off against a bunch of nameless, literally brainless green monsters who don’t really look like anything we’ve seen before, but they’re still not all that original, either – they’re like a weird cross between a dinosaur and a rat, but even then, I’m not so sure.
And coming from director Zhang Yimou, you’d probably expect a little something more, but just like he proved with House of Flying Daggers, Yimou doesn’t always care the most about story and character-development, as much as he cares about what looks cool on the big screen, in 3D, and what’s fun. Sometimes, too, that’s all you need; the Great Wall is the perfect example of Yimou having so many toys at his disposal and getting an opportunity to play with each and everyone of them. Could he have gone deeper with the plot, these characters, and the overall message of the tale?
Sure, but he doesn’t and it helps the movie not feel like all that much of a slug to get through.
Because when the movie does try and dive into the stuff like that, well, it doesn’t always work. We don’t really get to know anyone here, nor do we ever fully understand the plot itself, so when it takes time to explain itself, it just takes away from the movie and almost makes you wish for more monsters to show up. The characters themselves don’t have anything interesting to really say or do, either – sometimes, it seems like a lot of it was just filmed with the hopes that it would make it into the final-cut, but with no obligation whatsoever. Granted, we don’t always need clear, pitch perfect and three-dimensional characters in goofy monster movies such as the Great Wall, but it certainly does help us feel like there’s more at-steak, than just a bunch of lifeless, bland things getting killed on screen.
It also helps because you’ve got such a good cast here, with not much to do. Damon’s working with an odd accent the whole time, making him sound like he’s straight from Canada; Pascal’s character has all of the witty one-liners and laughs, as corny as they can sometimes get; Dafoe’s character is shady and mischievous, for reasons never made clear; Jing Tian gets to be a bit of a bad-ass when she isn’t trying to get some sort of spark flickering between her and Damon; and everyone else who shows up, well, they try, too. Mostly, the Great Wall doesn’t care about this stuff and for once, it’s sort of okay.
What it does prove is that it’s sometimes best to just take in and accept a monster movie, for exactly what it is.
Consensus: Even with the weak characters and story, the Great Wall still mostly gets by on the action, the look, the feel, and the surprisingly great deal of eye-popping 3D.
6 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre