STARRING: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Lin Gengxin, Chen Xuedong, Huang Xuan, Wang Junkai and Ryan Zheng
European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defence of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.
The Great Wall takes place during the Song dynasty, where we follow mercenaries searching for black powder who stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner. Unbeknownst to mercenaries William and Tovar however is that they are about to be caught up in the middle of a battle between the Nameless Order and horde of monsters known as the Tao Tei.
The Great Wall is a Chinese-American film, with director Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers and The Flowers of War) making his first English language (mostly) feature which focuses on telling an epic historical fantasy tale of a specialist army known as the Nameless Order that are tasked with defending the Great Wall from a horde of monsters known as the Tao Tei that rise up every sixty years.
The first twenty-thirty minutes of the film had me hooked and set for a speculate that I could at least say by the end of the film I was entertained. It builds nicely the setup for what’s to come, the scale of the Great Wall as well as the various group of soldiers within the Nameless Order placed upon the Wall, from melee specialists to archer specialists to acrobatic specialists, the eventual first battle is riveting to watch and within close proximity the special effects are solid in this sequence. Matt Damon is fine as William, the European mercenary that has represented many flags and greed lands him on the doorstep of the Great Wall which then he finds a reason to make a difference and claim redemption. This is also the first of a few performances from Jing Tian we’ll see in a blockbuster film in the next few years (Kong: Skull Island and Pacific Rim: Uprising) and I enjoyed her performance and her character as we see her climb through the ranks within the Nameless Order as bodies start to pile up. Infact I’d go as far to say that she was the most interesting character for me. Seeing Andy Lau appear in his first Hollywood film? What a time to be alive!
While the setup of the film is effective, unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t live up to its potential as it stalls…and stalls hard trying to develop character which is minimal to say the least. Damon’s character arc happens to be the least interesting aspect here and he manages to go through the film with a rather questionable accent that some will find off putting and I’m sure there will be a few comedy sketches within the year about it. Willem Dafoe is in the film and literally anyone else could’ve played the role as it’s such a throwaway character and Pedro Pascal, while fine in his performance, also is limited in character growth as well. The CGI from the halfway point in the battle sequences become questionable to downright noticeable as the monster horde climbing the wall to swarming the area toward it looks decent to bad, to anytime someone leaps from a rope or a chain, it just looks bad completely.
The films first act sets up the film nicely, creating this unique and intriguing history of the various divisions of the Nameless Order amy that are placed on the Great Wall to battle the monster horde and unfortunately it’s almost like the film runs out of steam once the first act is done as it becomes repetitive and dull. Damon gives a decent performance with a questionable accent but as always, delivers on the action front. Out of the rest of the cast however, Jing Tian is the standout performer for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be the best film ever, but for a Yimou Zhang film, I can’t help but feel disappointed. 4/10