The Great Wall – 2017
Director Zhang Yimou
Screenplay Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy
Starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Lu Han
What the hell just happened? It’s not like there isn’t enough talent in front of and behind the camera. Yimou has created several crossover Chinese classics (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) is barely a shadow of the intricate power he’s shown before. Tony Gilroy, to whom this writer would like to give credit for all good cinematic things in the last 4 years, can’t bring the awful dialogue or premise into something worth representing. Matt Damon looks to be caught like a poacher’s target. He knows he’s going to take a hit, but he just has to take it.
The story takes the premise that the real reason for building the Great wall is to keep out an army of man-sized lizards that climb walls like the zombies in World War Z. Damon and his mercenary partner, played by Pascal, stumble across the wall on their quest for gun powder, which is all the rage in the 11th Century when this film takes place. While there, they come across a prisoner / teacher (Defoe) with similar aspirations. First, though, they must resist the siege of these Taotie beasts that threaten the entire Chinese civilization.
For all of the snowflake sensitivity of whitewashing that this film was accused of, they forgot to wait to see if the movie is any good. There is no real crime that was perpetrated against the Chinese culture beyond typical Hollywood get the big name in the shot business. This is why they shoot different trailers and even different versions of films in other countries. China’s trailers undoubtedly get to see enough Chinese faces to sell their wares.
This film is not any good. It has the type of acting one would expect from an episode of an action TV show in the early ’80’s. The characters just say their lines and walk through the screen. It feels like a rehearsal more than a movie. Pascal has been excellent in Game of Thrones and Narcos. Dafoe is a two-time Oscar nominee. This movie gives the impression that none of the American actors had any idea when the director told them the camera was on.
The Asian actors fair only marginally better. There are no characters of any real depth here. There are several cliched check boxes that are checked. When contemplating the fate of these cardboard characters, it is hard to figure out why we should be rooting against the monsters. At least they show the ability to adapt.
Not that these monsters are all that great either. Almost 25 years since Jurassic Park and we still get animated characters that look like the “bad dogs” from Ghostbusters. Showing us a whole herd of them doesn’t forgive that individually none of them look lifelike. It’s not like mass movement is tricking anyone.
It has been a long time since I have seen Damon this bad in a movie. Green Zone and the last Bourne film were pretty bad, but not necessarily for his efforts. This film is like one of those decisions you can tell is bad from the first moment, but you ride it through hoping for a Mulligan. More cynically, one could think of it as a money grab from a ravenous Asian market.
This is a movie that should be forgotten, for the benefit of everyone involved.