I thought that I would hate The Great Wall, but I did not. I did not hate sitting in the theater watching this film, but it is not a good movie by any stretch.
William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are on their way into China looking for “black powder”aka gunpowder but they come across the Great Wall of China and a huge battalion of Chinese soldiers on guard against something. William and Tovar are captured and imprisoned, but they are freed when some massive group of CGI lizards with funky eyes attack the wall. William and Tovar jump to the rescue and earn the tentative trust of Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing). Lots of exposition is dropped to explain what was happening and the Chinese prepared for the next attack.
If you can go into this movie and not be distracted by little things like thinking, The Great Wall is watchable. The initial battle scene vs. the CGI creatures was very tense and full of excitement, and it looked wonderful (not the CGI, but the rest of it). Lin Mae was an interesting character that the film does not spend any time developing. That would be a recurring theme about The Great Wall. These characters are so one dimensional that it really takes away from the film. William is also underdeveloped. Tovar is remarkably inconsistent bouncing between comedy sidekick to dick.
The dialogue here was terrible… laughable even, in particular with Matt Damon’s character.
The CGI monsters looked like CGI monsters. There were also too many obvious green screen scenes here, especially during the third act finale. The CGI and special effects took away from what should have been a beautifully shot film. The colors of the Chinese army’s outfits and the surrounding land were breathtaking… or at least it could have been if not for the weak special effects.
Honestly, though, I did love the CGI on the fireball projectiles tossed with the catapult. That was cool.
And the story was all over the place. I wondered how the Chinese knew some of the exposition that they knew. For example, they knew that if they could kill the queen of these monsters, all the others would freeze up like the Chitauri from Marvel’s The Avengers. How did they know this? How did they know all the specific details that they did? Too much thinking really messes this plot up completely. This was a very long wall. Why is this the only location that these monsters are attacking? The whole thing with the magnet… why did that work?
Oh, and Willem Dafoe is in this movie too. There is no reason why Dafoe is in this movie and his character legitimately could have been played by any actor in the world. He brought zero to this character. That is not a slight on Willem Dafoe, because I think he is an outstanding actor. I loved him as Norman Osborn. The fact is that this character is completely superfluous and unnecessary to the movie.
Brad Pitt is fine. His dialogue was poor, but he does a good job looking like the awesome archer that he is meant to be. He is also meant to be a scoundrel, but I did not catch enough of a vibe from him on that. he always felt like a hero. If there was more of a conflict within Pitt, maybe the ultimate sacrifice he makes to help these people would have meant more or would have given this character another layer, but none of that was here. I did laugh several times at Pedro Pascal because he felt like Inigo Montoya to me.
The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou, who has an amazing visual style that has been on display in Hero or House of Flying Daggers. You can see some of that here, but the CGI really gets in the way. The third act as well was not near as exciting as the earlier fights with the creatures.
This movie is the largest film ever shot completely in China and is Yimou’s first English-Language production. It tries to be a spanning epic, but it turns out to be more like a B-level monster movie. It was not completely terrible, but defining it as “watchable” is about all I can go.