Zhang Yimou (Hero, House Of Flying Daggers) directed The Great Wall, an epic fantasy hybrid that gives a somewhat Sci-Fi origin behind the reason the Great Wall of China was built. He directs an international cast that features Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Tian Jing and Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) from screen story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and a screenplay by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy. The story is about two veterans of various European wars and the Crusades, who come to China in search of Gun Powder, which could make them wealthy back west. Instead they are conscripted into an army defending China along the Great Wall from the Taotie, viscous sentient creatures that have attempted to breach the defenses along the wall every sixty years for thousands of years. The Europeans become valuable members of the defense through their war experience and fighting prowess that inspires the Chinese soldiers, but can they combat the temptation of greed for serving a greater cause?
On the positive side, Zhang Yimou has a great sense of visuals and use of color that make the scenes along the wall and in the Chinese Emperor's city beautiful to behold. Unfortunately the screenplay by committee is too muddled down with flat characterization and a surprisingly lack of skill at creating suspense. Matt Damon looks like he is just slumming through the film, which takes away a lot from one's ability to feel anything for him. The Chinese Actors are sold short too and I suspect this film was cut down from a longer intended cut to make it more viewer friendly for western audiences. The only character who stands out in the entire film is Willem Dafoe and that is mostly because Dafoe has a gift for throwing himself into character roles in films of varied merit because he simply has no real inhibitions about the type of movies he appears in whether they are blockbusters, art house or b-movies and ultimately that is the problem with The Great Wall. It is a b-movie trying to be a historical fantasy epic and somehow it just becomes an effects show cheapened by cgi monsters, which are introduced so fast right at the beginning that there is absolutely no thrill or wonder to their presence.
This international production seems to be greatly hampered by a mix of western monster movie sensibilities and Chinese historical art house epics and it fails to honor both. People die and people are introduced with no payoff. The exposition leaves nothing to the imagination and there is no reason why these creatures seek to invade China when they could just as easily spread and multiply elsewhere and then comeback and overwhelm the Great Wall. If you want to see cgi green monsters cloned without regard for any detail that makes the majority of them look different from one another and then laugh at some ridiculous acrobat like methods employed to fight them, be my guest. However don't be surprised if after you see it you ask yourself, "that's it?"
Maybe the eventual Blu-ray release will yield an extended cut that develops the characters more beyond types, but nothing can save The Great Wall from feeling like zero sustenance eye candy.
(C) Copyright 2017 By Mark A. Rivera
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