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The Great Wall: Movie Review

Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers”) delivers his first English language film with “The Great Wall” starring Matt Damon.  Although the film was released two months ago in China, we are finally getting it here in the U.S.  For quite some time China has become one of the most important countries in the world to open tentpole films.  The US now counts for only a small percentage of the global box office take, so it stands to reason that more massive China set blockbusters will be produced in the future.

“The Great Wall” is clearly the biggest production to come out of China and it looks it. The film is epic in scope which is enhanced by fantastic sets and costumes.  The action sequences are put together much better than most American produced films of the same genre, thanks to Zhang.  The biggest problem though is that Damon is completely miscast here and not for the reason most people expect.  The story having a European mercenary as the central character makes a lot of sense when you watch the film. However, someone like Christian Bale would have been much more believable.  Damon is fine in action films, but he seems kind of uncomfortable here.

Set during the Song Dynasty (an era in Chinese history from 960-1279), English Mercenaries William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) find themselves taken prisoner by The Nameless Order, a military order commissioned by the Imperial Court to defend against monsters that attack every 60 years.  When the monsters make their first attack on the wall, the two men prove that they make for better allies than prisoners.  Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) does not trust the two men, but she is willing to fighting along-side the foreigners.  At first William only wanted the explosive black powder that The Nameless Order have in their possession. However, his feelings change when he realizes that if the monsters aren’t defeated they will spread across the globe.

“The Great Wall” is filled with glorious battles in all their CGI glory, but it is the practical work that really catches the eye.  I loved the inner workings off the wall, with the lifts and gears. It felt like classic Hollywood, something that is very rare these days.  The battle gear sported by the Chinese army is stunning and Jing looks stunning in it.

“The Great Wall” isn’t a great movie, but it is entertaining.  There is a sense of quality here that is missing in most American tentpole films.  The monsters themselves look like a mash-up of things we have seen countless times and lack originality.   February actually seems like the perfect time to release “The Great Wall” because it would surely get lost in the midst of summer or winter.  Despite my mixed feelings here, I am hoping to see more epic English language films come out of China.

By: Marc Ferman