The Great Wall of China + Matt Damon + CGI monster movie = Zhang Yimou's "The Great Wall." It's an over-the-top and under-whelming fantasy action movie with large-scale special effects. While there are definitely some entertaining moments and it's performing well so far at the foreign box office, the film lacks in most areas and only offers mild appeal for serious CGI action enthusiasts.
The Great Wall took 1700 years to build and stretches 5500 miles long, but what was it really built for? The film tells the secret legend of the wall protecting the citizens of China from an alien invasion. Every sixty years, ferocious monsters attack the wall attempting to prey on the people, but the defenders of the Wall, The Nameless order, dedicate their lives to stopping these creatures.
Matt Damon plays William, a European mercenary who is being pursued by bandits in the hills of China, and when he and his partner, Tovar (Pedro Pascal) accidentally come upon the Wall, they are taken prisoner. They quickly learn of the powerful beasts who are attacking are ultimately get caught up in the battle themselves. When Tovar gets a chance to escape captivity with the help of another European, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), William decides to stay behind and defend the wall, and after many years of being a solider for different flags, discovers something real to fight for.
Being the primarily first large-scale special effects film of the year, I had decent hopes for "The Great Wall." But what I found was a somewhat disappointing film with mediocre computer generated imagery, underdeveloped characters and a story that's all over the place. I wouldn't say the film is a complete loss as I did enjoy the experience, but it's by no means recommended as a top movie.
Damon sports some sort of accent that is suppose to be European but sounds like a combination of old American English and Scottish. It's reminiscent of Kevin Costner's dialect in his 90's Robin Hood roles. Damon's partner in battle, played by Pascal, gives a bit of comic relief throughout, and given the other issues this film has, both actors are adequate for this type of performance. Other actors include the much-underused Dafoe, along with Chinese actors Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu and more.
This is the kind of film that uses computer-generated imagery and other special effects to basically create the entire environment, including backgrounds, the Wall itself, the creatures and other scenery. While some films can make even the most extreme special effects look like they actually belong in the world, "The Great Wall" uses unimpressive effects that simply look too fake. It's like we're watching real actors in a fantasy world surrounded by green screens and CGI. It can be quite annoying when it's so bad that you can't tell what's real and what's not; everything just looks too fake.
If the film had focused the story a bit more and presented stunning special effects, it would be a whole different conversation. But when visuals are supposed to be a strength, and they turn out to be less than acceptable, you've got problems. That's not to say this won't be a hit overseas, much like Vin Diesel's "XXX" films. The Chinese love their big action movies, and Damon probably helps more than hurts, even if he is average at best.
The computer-generated creatures are decent looking, and some of the action is on point. But overall "The Great Wall" is a disappointing film compared to most American fantasy-action films of this nature. It's nice to see collaboration between foreign and domestic companies and actors, but I had hoped this film would be a bit better. For me, this film falls somewhere between "The Lord of the Rings" and "John Carter", with a Chinese twist.
"The Great Wall" is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence. Running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.