There are a lot of eyes on The Great Wall. Not only is it the biggest film co production between US and China, The Great Wall is also the most expensive film ever shot entirely in China, is the English language debuted of director Zhang Yimou and has had to battle accusations of whitewashing. No pressure then?
Set in China during the Song dynasty two Western mercenaries (Matt Damon and Game of Thrones Pedro Pascal) find themselves at the Great Wall of China and learn that the wall was built to keep out alien monsters that threaten to destory the whole world.
There’s plenty to admire in The Great Wall with Jin Tiang standing out as Commander Lin (and we’ll be seeing plenty more of her as Tiang will be seen in Skull Island and Pacific Rim). I was also glad she wasn’t shoved into a love interest role just because she’s the female lead. Instead her relationship with William is a platonic one based on growing mutual respect. The rest of the cast is stable such as Infernal Affairs Andy Lau as stategist Wang and Pascal provides light relief as a morally dubuious mercenary but very few other characters are memorable and Matt Damon appears to be phoning it in.
It does at least look good. The details of The Nameless Order’s armors look impressive and while the colour coding of the five units look a bit jarring close up the wide shots during the battle scenes shows the colours lights up the action and becomes more effective. The sets, such as building three versions of their own walls, are also striking. Unfortunately the aliens are too CGI to be any real source of terror or menace to the audience.
Any worries beforehand about whitewashing turn out to be unfounded considering Matt Damon’s role was always going to be a Westerner and while there were fears at the beginning that it would head into white savior mode ultimately the film goes to great length to show the strength of The Nameless Order and William is not treated as superior to anyone.
It’s just a shame that after all these attempts to make a film to please Eastern and Western audiences that the film is just OK. I was hoping that a joint operation would produce something a bit more original and exciting. While it’s engaging enough the film never truly sparkles as much as you hope.
Rating 3/5 – an interesting attempt but not memorable enough to stand out from the crowd