FILM REVIEW: Yes, "The Great Wall" is exactly what you think it is
There are usually two kinds of bad movies in this world: 1) Movies that are so bad they make your blood boil (see: Suicide Squad), 2) Movies that are so, bewilderingly, laugh-out-loud bad that make you so happy for being alive to witness (see: The Room).
And then there are movies like The Great Wall.
Better known by its more colloquial title, What Was Matt Damon Thinking?, The Great Wall, directed by notable Chinese director Zhang Yimou, promised to be an absolutely bonkers fantasy action flick: The Great Wall (yes, that great wall) is under siege by ancient space monsters, and China’s only hope is, well, Matt Damon with arrows.
But did it deliver on that promise? As you can imagine, accusations of Hollywood whitewashing started hurtling towards the film and its lead the moment its first trailer debuted – “Really? Are we really letting Matt-Damon-Saves-China-From-Aliens be a thing that exists?” the Internet sighed in exasperation. "Don't you dare take this away from me." I whisper-yelled back. In these dark times, this was a train-wreck of a movie I was intent on savouring.
Except it was less like a glorious train wreck, and more like a disappointing Royal Show ride: You get on, anticipate an exhilarating journey, only to find out that it's just a safe, slow chug back to where you were in the first place. The problem with The Great Wall isn't that it's your typical mindless action-packed blockbuster bonanza - the problem lies with the fact that it is actually quite adept at being your typical mindless action-packed blockbuster bonanza. So adept, in fact, that it is devoid of the so-bad-its-good quality (this) audience crave for, and quite frankly, are entitled to. Heck, even the promisingly ludicrous nature of Damon's White Saviour role in the movie is "explained away", leaving room for neither begrudging praise nor satisfying condemnation.
Unsurprisingly, The Great Wall is populated with thinly-drawn characters, most of which were obviously conceived to fabricate a sense of pathos when they inevitably become monster-chowder. Any comments on the acting in this movie is almost a moot point, as most of the actors have resigned to phoning-in their performances with a bare-bones screenplay. But let's power through: Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, Narcos) seems to be the only one having fun in the very coveted role of "minority as comic-relief/sidekick". Willem Dafoe is also inexplicably in this movie, sleepwalking as a character whose main reason for existing seems to be to explain why some of the Chinese characters could speak English. Meanwhile, opposite Damon and his shaky Irish accent, poor Chinese actress Jing Tian gives it her all as the female lead in this movie, a skilful General tasked with leading the charge to defend the Wall (you can also find her in the equally coveted role of Token Asian Scientist in the upcoming Kong: Skull Island).
However, The Great Wall deserves some credit for knowing exactly what kind of movie it wanted to be, and checking off its action-filled blockbuster CGI-fest requirements swimmingly. House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower cemented director Zhang Yimou as a prolific visual director, and he did not disappoint when it comes to what an optical feast the movie was to experience on screen. Yimou is no stranger to orchestrating visually-stunning battle sequences - and The Great Wall was no exception, with 80 percent of the film consisting of colourful, momentous action set-pieces. But visual flair does not a good movie make; especially not when the movie fails to have its audience care for its characters, or feel the stakes involved in its story. Not even the star power of Matt Damon can save The Great Wall from the biggest monster of all: Great Mediocrity.
If you have seen The Great Wall, why not listen to the spoiler-filled discussion of the movie below? And while you're at it, why not subscribe to our brand new podcast (available on Itunes or wherever you listen to podcasts), SPOILER NATION - where we have spoiler-filled discussions about film and tv?