The Great Wall tells the story of European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defence of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures. And what an enjoyably forgettable experience it was.
It’s a shame that the reports about ‘The Great Wall’ that preceded the film intially misconstrued the film. Because two of the main cast are white (Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe) and a Latino actor (Pedro Pascal), and the film being set in medieval China, it’s no wonder the film was accused of whitewashing. Although it may not be perfect, it’s not as bad as the reviewers made it seemed and doesn’t hold as much of a ‘white saviour complex’ as you might think, though though there is it’s recognisable whiff of it in the air. Director Yimou Zhang has commented that Damon’s roll was not one that was meant for a Chinese actor and criticised those for attacking the film without knowing the full story.
The Chinese-American production helmed by legendary Chinese director Yimou Zhang, who’s most recogniseable works can be found in the visually stunning and action packed films in ‘Hero’ and ‘House of Flying Daggers,’ is the most expensive film ever shot entirely in China and holds a budget of USD$135 million. Unfortunately, compared to his previous work, ‘The Great Wall’ has hardly a piece of innovation though it would be totally untrue to say that there was nothing redeemable about the film.
Visually, it was on point and very appealing to the eye and this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise with two Oscar nominated, and very talented nonetheless, cinematographers behind the camera in Stuart Dryburg (’The Piano’; ’The Secret LIfe of Walter Mitty’) and Xiaoding Zhao (’House of Flying Daggers’; ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’), bringing the blend of styles to the film. Combine this with a beautiful set design and vibrant costume choices, the visual style of the film isn’t something that could be ignored, and made the action sequences pretty and fun enough to watch.
But no matter how visually pleasing a film can be, it’s nothing without a story. Six (yes, you read that right) writers were involved in creating ‘The Great Wall’ and each of those individuals were responsible for films like ‘World War Z,’ The ‘Jason Bourne’ franchise, and ‘The Last Samurai,’ which would no doubt raise some flags in regards to the Hollywood-isation of the film. There’s no depth to the story and the characters don’t connect you to the story or make you want to care about these one dimension characters and what could happen to them. Even with the plethora of American, Chinese, and Latin American cast, and all the effort that went into the production of the film behind the camera, it’s surely a waste of talent.
And whatever Damon’s accent was supposed to be, it definitely wasn’t Irish. Or American. In the end, it was just plain confusing as it drifting between his natural born American and something else entirely.
The only reason you’d go to see this film is for the pure spectacle of it because honestly, there’s no other reason. The story is hardly anything special, which is a surprise considering the amount of writers that worked on the project, the special effects were decent in most parts but looked extremely gimmicky in others, Pascal provided some excellent humour while Damon just played Damon, and the production and costume design the only real above average aspect of the film.
The tip for going into ‘The Great Wall’ is to not expect anything and you’ll get to enjoy nothing but mindless entertainment.