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The Great Wall Review

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Chinese/American co-production, The Great Wall, is the most expensive movie shot in China, and even just watching the opening 20 minutes of Zhang Yimou’s (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) it’s easy to see why. The titular land mark stretches out as far as the eye can see, as legions of coloured armoured soldiers pirouette off the top while in battle with CGI monsters. To say this movie looks pretty is an understatement, but unfortunately, what it has in style eclipses anything resembling substance.


The story thrusts us back in time to medieval China, where Europeans William (Matt Damon affecting an accent that flits between Irish, English, and Scottish at the drop of a hat) and Tovar (Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal) have travelled in search of fabled ‘black powder’. Falling foul to a travelling horde of bandits, the pair are soon taken in by the Nameless Order, an ancient military sect who work out of the Great Wall of China and have clearly taken fashion tips from the Power Rangers school of armour aesthetics. While there, the order’s purpose is made known to them: they protect the world from otherworldly monsters, the Tao Tei, who rise up every 60 years from the meteor they came to Earth inside and won’t rest until they have eaten everything in sight.

While this particular blockbuster separates itself with the majority of dialogue presented in Mandarin with English subtitles, the movie’s story is a pretty run of the mill ‘outsiders become embroiled in an ancient war’ type scenario, and follows the cliched beats pretty darn closely. From an opening that introduces the mother of all Chekov’s Guns with an object that just about screams ‘you’ll be seeing me again’ to William’s character changing from a mercenary only out for himself to noble warrior, nothing about The Great Wall surprises or intrigues. It just trips from scene to scene with no real rhyme or reason, and isn’t as ridiculous and over the top as it should be. Sure, the action set pieces can be breathtaking at times, and as inventive as you would expect from Yimou, but they ultimately collapse under the weight of trying to marry the practical effects with the CGI monsters, reducing what should be outrageously entertaining to disappointingly bland.

Damon at least throws himself into the lead role, fluid nationality notwithstanding, showboating his way through proceedings with the help of an over abundance of slo-mo, while his supporting cast handle themselves well. Unfortunately, they do nothing more than propel the story forward. Damon’s  'will they/won’t they’ sub plot as Commander Lin Mae sadly falls flat as soon as it begins, mainly down to the fact that he has more chemistry with Pascal. Willem DeFoe is particularly wasted, his Sir Ballard, another European prisoner of the Nameless Order, existing only to explain why some of the Chinese characters can speak English.

The Great Wall could have been an jaw dropping blockbuster, but unfortunately just falls shy as mildly entertaining.






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The Movie Bit: The Great Wall Review
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