“The Great Wall” is an epic Chinese fantasy adventure film unfortunately compromised by the token addition of a pair of western actors in an attempt to increase its box office potential.
Set in the time of the Song Dynasty, the Great Wall Of China is one of the wonders of the world, but its true purpose is to protect the Empire from an extraterrestrial and monstrous threat, the Tao Tei. Manned by the nameless order, the Wall is home to five colour coded brigades, the melee-specialist Bear troop, the acrobatic Crane troop, the archery focussed Eagle troop, the siege specialist Tiger troops, and the Deer troop cavalry. Into this unknown conflict wander two western mercenaries, hunting for the fabled black powder used by the Chinese weaponsmiths.
As you’d expect from epic Chinese cinema, the visuals here are remarkable. While the CGI itself is decent enough, the sets and costumes and lavish fight choreography are the real stars, giving life to the ultimate big screen “Power Rangers” fantasy as colourful warriors acrobatically fight their way through wave after wave of alien menaces.
Unfortunately, the need to include an unnecessary subplot to account for the present of Matt Damon’s Irish? mercenary and his sidekick Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) forces the film to contort itself so much that nothing gets the exploration and exposition it deserves to develop the story to the levels of richness on offer in the production design. It’s a counter-intuitive decision to pander so much to western audiences in the casting and yet use subtitles so frequently, adding to the disjointed qualities of the finished product but, saying that, Mertmas enjoyed the movie a lot and the subtitles didn’t phase that 10 year old movie fan as he thrilled to the action and monster mashing on screen.
“The Great Wall” has to go down as a missed opportunity because away from the awkward culture clash, there was an impressive, epic fantasy film here trying to break out and the money spent of getting Matt Damon in front of the camera could have been invested in the skills of director Zhang Yimou, allowing him to bring it to the screen with the sharpness and elegance of his previous work.