An unfortunate case of style of substance.
“THE GREAT WALL” stars; Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal and Willem Defoe, sort of, and it is directed by Zhang Yimou, who also directed 2002’s “House of Flying Daggers” a film that I really enjoyed.
The story follows a couple mercenaries who are traveling the countryside and looking to trade for some black powder, also known as gun powder. When they get to the ‘Great Wall’ they discover a massive army, and soon become embroiled in this war against hordes of lizard-like dragons.
This was an interesting film that drew a lot of criticism prior to its release. People saw Matt Damon in ancient China fighting with soldiers, and the white-washing of Hollywood talks kicked back up again. I will admit I found it curious as well, but nothing in Hollywood surprises me anymore. After watching, it was clear a big name was needed to help get this film the budget needed to pull off the over-bloated CGI filled story.
I was still a little apprehensive about this movie, when I watched the trailer for the first time it was very interesting, looked like it would be filled with stunning visual appeal, and it looked like it had the foundation to build a fun adventure. But then the end of the trailer showed more of these dragon creatures, and I was slightly less intrigued.
Walking out of this film I found myself disappointed in it for the same reasons that had me worried going, plus more. I won’t say this was a bad movie, but it wasn’t a very good one from start-to-finish. The first 30-minutes were very entertaining. Once the ‘Great Wall’ is shown with this massive army defending it, I was highly compelled.
The visual quality of the film was excellent and delivering all I was hoping for from a Zhang Yimou film. The first battle was very immersive and adrenaline pumping and I was beginning to think I was in store for a wild, time-period adventure.
Then the story kicks in and the pace and intrigue quickly drop. I will say the plot sets up a serviceable reasoning behind Damon’s and Pascal’s characters being in the story, but there’s, and the rest of the characters, were simply there, with no development at all. It was hard to connect with any of the characters, because you never get to know any of them.
Also, while the plot creates the why of Damon being in this story, that doesn’t mean he fit into it. He felt out of place and despite his efforts this was not a very good performance. One that was hindered by a back accent, and man bun. He had his moments but he did not fit into this script or the story, and with some less than stellar dialogue, he didn’t have much of a chance.
The story was not well layered, the dialogue was not well written, and the story drags the pace down so much it makes this movie feel twice as long as it really was. There were way too many repetitive scenes, and the love story subplot, Willem Defoe’s entire role, and all of it just felt like a cluttered mess.
Now this film was not “Gods of Egypt” bad, but despite the strong visual appeal, there were some instances of, not the best CG. These dragons were not doing it for me, they looked overly cartoonish at times, and after a while this film became so reliant of CG that it became almost a completely animated movie.
There were some moments of awesome special-effects however. The first sequence when the dragons attack was honestly amazing. It was perfectly shot and displayed excellent camera-work that will pull you right into the chaos of the battle, but still managing to create some clever moments to build intrigue.
Yet, as the story progresses they try to outdo each action set-piece before it, and only pulled me out of it. By the end of it, the entire thing felt like a version of the final sequence in “World War Z”. They were mildly entertaining for what they were, but with a story that is simply boring, all the visual flair you can imagine will not make this movie very fun to sit through and it’s unfortunate.
This film could have been much better with a little less effort in creating special-effects filled spectacle, and a little more effort spent in building some characters and a story with more substance.
Time: 103 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For sequences of fantasy action violence)