February 15, 2017.
Spoiler Alert for The Great Wall: Matt Damon saves the population of China and saves the entire world while barely doing anything. Watching this movie, the entire time I was just thinking to myself how they managed to make hundreds of thousands CGI wolf/dinosaur hybrids attacking the great wall of china could be so dull and boring. I had a bit of hope going into this one. I usually like everything Matt Damon is in. He gets hate on quite a bit, but he’s a fine actor. Zhang Yimou also directed it, and he made one of my favorite foreign films ever with his 2002 feature, Hero. Alas, this movie felt as real as the CGI monsters Matt Damon and company fight. The characters had zero depth to them. There were no emotional stakes attached to any of the fight scenes, and the story felt like something an elementary kid thought up while he/she were daydreaming in class. All this adds up to to a boring, muddled movie.
The Great Wall stars Matt Damon who plays William (at least I think that was his name). William is some sort of mercenary or assassin man who kills a monster but we can’t see him kill the monster because the camera cuts like 50 times in 3 seconds and takes the monster’s arm and him and his buddy who I don’t even think we learn his name run away from these people who are chasing them and then accidentally by complete accident run into the great wall of China and then our plot begins. I apologize for that run-on sentence, but the way Yimou and the scriptwriters tried to set up this story was so atrocious and messy I think a run-on sentence was perfect to describe it. Yimou doesn’t care about setting up likeable characters or a well thought out story, he just wants us to get to the action scenes right away so the audience won’t be bored. He miserably failed with this tactic. If you combine lazy choreography with unlikeable characters, it sets your movie up to be a boring piece of trash.
I’m hating on this movie quite a bit, but there were a select few (and I really emphasize few) aspects of it that were enjoyable. As I said before; the action and choreography was lazy and repetitive, but damn was it ever cheesy. During the first battle, one of the CGI monsters catches a spear in its mouth and flings it right into Matt Damon jumping in slow motion, who then catches it in mid air, does a 360, and throws the spear back through its mouth. You can’t not laugh at something like that. It’s dumb. It’s really dumb. But it’s also a lot of fun. Do not forgot this move though, because Matt Damon employs it probably two more times at least. My friend Grayson, who I saw the movie with, coined it: “Matt Damon’s 360 no scope.” That is exactly what it is. The costumes were also made with a great attention to detail which was nice. Every faction on the wall was color coded, so archers were red and soldiers were black etc. This added a visually striking pop to the dull grey landscapes. The best use of color is near the end though, when Matt Damon must climb this tower that is made of stain glass. The light creates a kaleidoscope rainbow effect that is stunning. Yimou’s other film that i mentioned, Hero, in my opinion employs the best use of color in the history of cinema, so he knows how to use it. These were only small moments I enjoyed throughout the movie. As a whole, The Great Wall is a very bad film.
The introduction to our characters was horrendous. It didn’t even feel like an introduction. It just thrusts Matt Damon and his friend into the action without really getting to know them. The biggest character arc is Matt Damon befriending the new General of the Wall and not ditching her for his other friend. Enjoyable characters are absent from this film. Tian Jing, who plays the General/sort of Matt Damon’s love interest but not really, is the closest thing to an enjoyable character. Her costume is awesome, she’s easy on the eyes, and she tries to grasp all the mayhem going on with a clear head. Oh, Willem Dafoe is in this movie too. He has third billing, but probably has seven minutes of screen time where he just spouts exposition like a fountain. His whole character is a macguffin used to separate Matt Damon and his friend so Matt Damon can save him at the end and look like the selfless hero. If you are able to waste the talent that is Willem Dafoe, you have a huge problem. The acting in this movie was very shoddy, but the story is even worst.
The story is so simple it doesn’t allow anything real or interesting to bubble to the surface. It takes place in the span of like two days, and is about Matt Damon and the soldiers on the wall battling monsters so they don’t destroy China and the world. There are a few sub-plots sprinkled throughout like Matt Damon’s love interest, Matt Damon’s quasi-soldier friend who is used as a manipulation device, and Matt Damon’s friend who ditches him. None of them are engrossing at all. The Great Wall also uses that dumb cliche where there is a central power controlling all the minions that must be destroyed for the good guys to win. I’m convinced this movie was made so Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, and Zhang Yimou could get a hefty paycheck, and Universal could cash in on the juggernaut Chinese box office that would cater to their tastes. It makes for an uninteresting and lifeless film that is anchored by Matt Damon’s star power.
I did not expect The Great Wall to be a cool, smart movie by any means. However; I was expecting to enjoy it a lot more than I did. Cheesy action and stylish costumes and colors aside, there was nothing I could grasp onto. I go into every movie I see with positivity because I want to like every movie I see. I respect the hell out people who follow through with their art, and make it available for everybody to watch and to criticize. The Great Wall just didn’t entertain me though, and that is the basic goal for a movie to accomplish. A rushed story, bland acting, and simple characters make for a boring, disposable movie. That is exactly what The Great Wall is.