At this point I can only say, “Sure, why not?” So this is about a pair of European mercenaries (Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal) who are traveling to China to trade for black powder (essentially gunpowder without the name). When they finally reach the Great Wall, they find something else entirely: a giant horde of monsters that attack the country every sixty years, and wouldn’t you know that this doesn’t happen to be an off-year. Now I saw trailers for this and I thought it looked questionable at best. It’s one of those cases like Ghost in the Shell where they got an Asian property that should have had an Asian lead, but instead they headline a big name white American actor for marketability’s sake. It’s plain as day, and it is not something that is even up for debate. While I do have a problem with that on a base level, I was able to get past it and enjoy this as a straight up action movie.
Damon’s not bad in this, but he does stick out like a sore thumb.
Now the one reason that I did hold out hope for this is because of director Yimou Zhang. I’m a gigantic fan of his beautiful 2002 art house flick Hero. In fact, simply just reminiscing about that here makes me realize just how long it has been since I’ve sat down to spend some time with that masterpiece, so much so that I might just end up doing that shortly. If there is one thing you can say about Yimou Zhang it is that he knows how to work with vibrant colors on a large scale. That is present here as well, and all of the costuming with bright primary and secondary colors works simply because there is so much of it. Even though he may be a director known for his artistic flair, there are no pretensions about this. Everybody knows what this is, and where I do have respect for The Great Wall is that it does not waste your time. It jumps right into it, and before fifteen minutes has gone by, you’re already knee deep in a giant fight that ends up feeling like an epic Lord of the Rings battle.
Which is high praise to be sure.
There is plenty here that holds this back from greatness, namely a number of items that don’t make sense from a strategic standpoint; why not lead with the black powder if you’re the Chinese, and why pull back when you’re so close to victory if you’re the monsters. Also, the editing towards the end of this felt a bit choppy, almost like there is a longer director’s cut of this floating around somewhere. I did like the back and forth between Damon and Pascal, and you really buy that they’ve been journeying together for quite some time at this point. I’m actually happier than not that I took the time to watch this creature feature, and as long as you walk into this with the right mindset, I think it makes for a fun rental.
The Great Wall (2016) ***
– Critic for Hire