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Matt Damon’s ‘The Great Wall’ is anything but great

Movie trailer: 'The Great Wall'

Starring Matt Damon and directed by Zhang Yimou ("Hero," "House of Flying Daggers"), "The Great Wall" tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure. The first English-language production
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Starring Matt Damon and directed by Zhang Yimou ("Hero," "House of Flying Daggers"), "The Great Wall" tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure. The first English-language production

“The Great Wall” is such a film of convenience that it’s best you conveniently skip seeing it. This is less of a “Great Wall” and more of a “So-So Wall.”

The film starts with great potential. A group of mercenaries are traveling through China during the Song Dynasty in search of a fabled black powder with great destruction potential. What they find is the Great Wall of China that is being manned by thousands of troops.

What sparked the construction is a horde of creatures – part dog, part dinosaur, part lizard – who come looking to kill and eat. Here comes the first convenient action. The creatures only attack every 60 years and the mercenaries just happen to show up on one of those days.

And, it is equally convenient that with the thousands of miles of places to attack the Great Wall of China, the creatures pick the spot with the greatest concentration of soldiers.

The two mercenaries – William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) – just happen to be carrying a large magnet with them, the one thing that can slow the creatures. Why they need a magnet in the middle of the desert is never really explained. It’s just convenient they have it.

It’s also convenient that one of the top leaders in the Chinese army, Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian ), happens to be attractive enough to catch the eye of William and she speaks English. William learns the wall is the last hope of keeping the creatures – whose existence is conveniently explained away with a green rock from space and man’s greed – from killing everyone in the country and then spreading their destruction to the world.

The script by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy is loaded with other convenient spots just to keep the action going. The biggest is that while the Chinese have a massive amount of gunpowder that proves to be very effective against the creatures in small blasts, the army opts to fight with swords and arrows.

That decision does conveniently allow director Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers”) to stage the attacks with an absurd Cirque du Soleil approach. Fighters jump off or walk down the wall to take the ravenous creatures on in a hand-to-teeth showdown. It looks good but for an army that looks so well prepared, the approach is the least effective.

There’s also a major turning point in the plot where it is convenient for this thundering mass of creatures to slip past the army undetected. It makes as much sense as a large group of zombies on “The Walking Dead” tiptoeing up behind a future meal.

Visually, “The Great Wall” has some beautiful moments although nothing looks that original. The creatures attack in the same way the zombies did in “World War Z” and the choreography of the beasts often looks more like the opening number for a summer Olympics than the way animals would act.

“The Great Wall” is an example of how Hollywood is changing. China is becoming one of the biggest movie-going markets in the world. This kind of production will become more of the norm. But, that doesn’t mean that a filmmaker can get away with making a movie where logic and smart writing can be conveniently ignored.

It also means American actors like Matt Damon will be conveniently written into the script. The worst part is that while the Chinese have had 60 years to prepare for the battle, it’s the foreigner who shows up to save the day.

Such an approach is just convenient.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

The Great Wall

1/2

Movie review

Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau.

Director: Yimou Zhang

104 minutes

Rated PG-13 (fantasy scenes, action)

Opens: Friday, Feb. 17

Check movie times at calendar.fresnobee.com/movies.aspx

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