Director Zhang Yimou’s latest film is a monster film set in China during the Song dynasty
“The Great Wall” tells the story of a warrior (Matt Damon) who is confined within the legendary Great Wall. While being held captive, Damon’s character learns the secrecy that lies behind one of the biggest spectacles of the planet. As prowling creatures surround the enormous wall, his mission for wealth and glory turns into a trip toward courageousness and bravery as he unites with a vast army of top soldiers to tackle the unbelievable and apparently unrelenting force of monsters.
It’s funny to think that “The Great Wall” is the biggest-budget movie ever shot in China as the film feels incredibly small in scale and story. Make no mistake; the film has decent action sequences where the audience sees this impressive army tackle thousands of green dragons. However, aside from these sequences that feature visual flair and intriguing camera work, the film feels small in its story.
Watching “The Great Wall,” you’re not quite sure what the film wants to accomplish with its plot. Is the film wanting to be a generic monster movie? Does it want to be an arthouse film with dazzling graphics? Does it want to be a commentary on fame and glory? The film is ultimately all over the place in what it wants to accomplish in 104 minutes.
While the visuals are impressive, the characters featured are not. Matt Damon has a strong supporting cast that features Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal as well as Willem Dafoe. These are great additions… such a shame that they are completely wasted.
Furthermore, Pascal’s character is one-note in his ambitions and character development. Pascal plays Damon’s partner who wants so desperately to succeed in their initial mission: obtaining gunpowder. And Dafoe’s character does not fare much better in the film. Dafoe plays a bumbling fool essentially forced to work inside the wall. Dafoe is a charming actor with a specific magnetic presence to him. He’s unfortunately wasted in the film.
Frankly, Damon and Jing Tian are the only two characters that have some sense of story and change. Damon’s character goes from obsessed with greed and Western wealth to being a man willing to put his life on the line to save others. He goes from selfish to selfless. Tian gives her character strength and nobility as she shares the screen with Damon and gracefully dances through all the action sequences that are saturated with fireballs, arrows and numerous dragons.
Overall, “The Great Wall” is an action movie with mixed results. The film features striking visuals and action sequences that are anything but bland. However, it’s hard to get excited about the actual storyline once you take away these action sequences. The characters are not layered or impressive, and the story feels strangely small. The film becomes nothing more than a generic monster movie. Bottom line: Matt Damon’s man bun might be the most exciting element this film features aside from the action.