If you approach The Great Wall in the right way, there’s plenty to enjoy in Yimou Zhang’s impressive looking epic. William (Matt Damon) a travelling mercenary, and his men including trusted aide Tovar (Game of Thrones favourite Pedro Pascal) are on the hunt for a mysterious and very valuable black powder. With his team decimated, they come across an army of elite warriors who are guarding The Great Wall from attack from swarms of devastating creatures.
So far so good then… Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal make for a humorous duo and their banter and chemistry works well here, especially in their initial exchanges with the defending army. After a sense of duty urges William to help the soldiers defend their Wall against these relentless beasts, he and an unconvinced Pedro end up playing a pivotal role in the battle to keep the creatures at bay, and with it potentially save humankind from annihilation.
Very much in the mould of a 90s CGI heavy blockbuster, The Great Wall wears its heart on its sleeve with plenty of action and spectacle with varying degrees of success. The initial battle is extremely CGI heavy and it sometimes detracts from the narrative, but then a fantastic second wave attack that takes place on the Wall that’s surrounded in mist and fog hits exactly the right note. A less is more approach (like this sequence) would have worked wonders for the whole film.
So if you can put aside the overuse of CGI, the monsters themselves do look good – just the right level of scary and they move with suitable speed to always keep things interesting. The film is shot very well by Zhang, who clearly relished taking on a film with this magnitude and cultural significance. The cast are all solid too with Tian Jing doing a great job as Commander Lin Mae, who forms a special alliance with William. Elsewhere, screen legend Andy Lau adds gravitas to the role of chief strategist Wang, Willem Dafoe chews his scenes up as the cunning Ballard while Lu Han impresses as a young soldier named Peng Yong who William helps save.
Ultimately, The Great Wall won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re looking for a competent and forgettable blockbuster full of action then it achieves its goal. The ‘white-washing’ criticism levelled at the film for featuring Matt Damon as its lead for a story about The Great Wall of China is unfair though. He is playing a European soldier who aids the Chinese army, there’s nothing else untoward. The only thing dodgy here is Damon’s accent which veers between Irish, American and Dutch with alarming regularity. If you can get past that then The Great Wall is a passable blockbuster that should have played a few cards closer to their chest.
Cast: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Lu Han Director: Yimou Zhang Writer: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy, Max Brooks, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz Released By: Universal Certificate: 12A Duration: 103 mins Release Date: 17th February 2017