“The Great Wall” Review

First thing’s first, casting Matt Damon in this movie was not a stroke of whitewashing.  I grow tired of having to clarify these things.  Internet, questioning is fine, but wait until you have all the facts before you accuse.  From the director himself, “In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience.  Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor.”  He was hired by a Chinese production company/director to play in the country’s most expensive film of all time.  That said, The Great Wall is probably that country’s worst movie of all time.

The Great Wall is directed by Yimou Zhang and written by: Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Max Brooks, Tony Gilroy, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard.  Stars-Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, and Willem Dafoe.  Premise-While running from bandits and searching for the fabled “black powder” (aka gunpowder), mercenary William (Damon) comes across the Great Wall of China, where he quickly learns that it is the first line of defense against a furious colony of creatures bent on consuming everything in sight.

If you want to look for whitewashing in this production, check out that writing team.  When I first saw “Story by Edward Zwick,” everything made much more sense because The Great Wall is a lot like a Zwick film: all style (action) no substance (story).  The best thing about this movie is the action sequences.  The sound design, Ramin Djawadi’s score, and a good sense of scale and urgency create some pretty cool battles.  Unfortunately, that, along with impeccable sets and costumes, is the only redeemable thing about this utterly forgettable flick.

Yimou Zhang is one of Asia’s most renowned directors (pretty close to Akira Kurosawa).  He’s won two BAFTAs and has directed several Oscar-nominated films.  My question is: why the living heck did he sign on to this Americanized dreck?!  Seriously,  I have never seen a more American film from a foreign production company/director in my life.  The Great Wall uses, literally, every single bad action movie cliché in the book.  Characters flying back half a mile when a green screen prop hits them, an attractive, white, male, mega star in the lead role, an overdose of crappy CGI, annoying shaky-cam, unfunny side characters, and of course, explosions.  This action movie sucks at creating suspense because I could predict it scene by scene, and since the characters are stock, boring clichés, The Great Wall is a bore to sit through.  Also, the trailers lie to your face.  The line, “I’ve fought for greed and gods” is not in the film, and the way they show the monsters suggest them to be something entirely different than what they really are.

If you need any proof of how no one cared about this project, just look at the actors.  When they’re not doing their best impression of an IKEA coffee table, they sport the, “I know being in this movie will sully my reputation, but I got paid big time” expression.  I honestly don’t blame them, they have nothing to work with.  You’re not going to believe this, but there are not one, not two, but three main characters that contribute absolutely nothing to the plot!  I have never seen that before in my life!  Not only that, but there are a million plot-wrecking plotholes and contrivances.  For example, it takes the movie till the halfway point (long enough for the audience to lose any suspension of disbelief) to explain where the heck these monsters came from, and doing so creates even more continuity issues.  I’m all for historically inaccurate films.  When properly written, we get the awesomely fun Inglourious Basterds, the incredibly dramatic Braveheart, and 300 (need I say more?).  Apparently this is one of the legends of the Great Wall of China.  What the filmmaker’s do not understand is that your movie has to be coherent regardless of historical accuracy.  There’s about 25 MacGuffin’s and none of them make any sense, despite their lazy attempts to dump exposition on everything.

The climax is especially ridiculous.  Just when you didn’t think they could cram in any more clichés, they do (and take your money at the same time).  I can’t list them all for fear of spoilers, but this one needs to be called out.  *MINOR SPOILER*  It is a death scene.  When this happened, I fully gave up on any dignity the movie had left.  It is perhaps the worst self-sacrifice I have ever come across.  They even do the slow-motion head turn as the character does the deed.  What’s insulting about this is that the character that dies is barely developed.  They have a few scenes, but the movie never even tells me their freaking name (at least, not to my knowledge)!  These were my immediate words after that scene, “Aw.  I cared so much for…whatshisname?”

After the thorough spanking I gave this movie, you’d probably expect me to call this one of the worst movies of all time.  Heck no.  The sad fact is, every now and then we get a mindless action movie with a grand scale setting.  It was Ben-Hur and Legend of Tarzan in 2016, San Andreas and Maze Runner: Scorch Trials in 2015, Transformers: Age of Extinction and I, Frankenstein in 2014 (there were many in that year), etc.  Each and every one of those films shares the same elements: boring, stupid, and forgettable.  Oh, and crappy.  I’m going to watch Kung Fu Hustle now and pray to God that these clichés (aka blights on cinema), end.  The Great Wall gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D-.

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