Possible spoilers ahead!
A group of twenty European mercenaries are sent on a mission to ancient China, where they are hoping to track down a weapon known only as black powder. However, their expedition proves to be far from successful, leaving William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) as the only survivors of their original group.
One night, they have an encounter with a strange creature, but William manages to take its head.. The next day, the duo stumble upon the Great Wall of China and are taken prisoner by a secret division of the Imperial army that lives within the wall. This grand arm is there to fight of legions of monsters like the one that William and Pero crossed paths with the earlier.
During a battle to defend the wall against the monsters, the duo meets Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), who has lived at the Wall for 25 years. He tells Pero and William that he knows where the black powder is kept, he’s willing to help the take it, but only if they help him escape.
After proving themselves during the battle, William and Pero are set free and informed by the secret division’s leaders – including one Crane Troop Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian) – that the creatures are mystical beasts known as Taotie and attack the northern region of China every sixty years. With this in mind, the two mercenaries are now faced with a choice: accept Ballard’s deal or stay at the Wall and fight the Taotie.
“The Great Wall” did something right: it managed to combine monster movies like “Godzilla,” with the stunning atmosphere and style of other Chinese productions like, “Curse of the Golden Flower” and “House of Flying Daggers.” Not a surprise really, since Zhang Yimou directed Wall, Flower, and Daggers.
“Curse of the Golden Flower” and “House of Flying Daggers” were very different plot wise. But one thing I have to give them is that both films had beautiful bright costumes, stunning sets, and epic battle sequences. And “The Great Wall” is no exception, it has all the right ingredients, but the movie’s main problem is its CGI sequences. Sometimes they’re great, while other times the CGI looks rushed an unfinished. There was also a bit too much slow motion CGI for my taste.
Another thing: there were times where I thought I was watching two different movies. One, and epic Chinese masterpiece. The other, a Hollywood CGI bonanza. Perhaps this is due to the fac that the movie had two directors of photography, Xiaoding Zhao, and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh.
As for the cast, I didn’t have an issue with Matt Damon being in this movie. Not because he was great or anything, but because at the end of the day, Damon’s character turned out to be more of a sidekick than anything else to Jing Tian’s Commander Lin Mae. Damon was fine by the way, but he didn’t do anything new here we haven’t seen him to in other action movies.
Jing Tian however, stole the movie for me. This is the first time I’ve seen her in anything, and she was fantastic. Tian was the best part of “The Great Wall in fact. She carried most of the movie, and had some of the film’s best scenes and she looked great in battle.
“The Great Wall” is not a perfect film, a lot things could have been better. It could have been longer, which might have given us more character development than we got. We could have seen what happened to Damon’s group in China, and how they got there to being with. The filmmakers could also have cut the Willem Defoe character out, because quite frankly he was pointless when all was said and done.
I know the “The Great Wall” got savaged by critics, and bombed at the box office. But I don’t care, I liked the movie. It has an interesting premise, and some great moments. “The Great Wall” is also big and loud, with huge battle scenes, some humor, and I enjoyed it. It may not be up there with Zhang Yimou’s other films, but for an hour and 45 minutes, I was entertained.
“The Great Wall” final score: C