Image Credit: Legendary Pictures
If the future of movie-going lies to the East, it would be ideal for all of us to get comfortable with the notion of cross cultural programming like “The Great Wall” a silly, noisy, and often ludicrous romp that pits Matt Damon against an army of lizard-pygmy creatures in the most iconic structure of the world. This movie is as much of a trade deal as it gets, and is guaranteed not to offend nor confuse audiences from Beijing to Boston. But in the hands of a respected director, Zhang Yimou, who helmed “House Of Flying Daggers,” he does manage to muster some semblance of something occasionally thrilling in all the stupidest ways.
There was a ruckus all over the internet when it was announced that Damon would play the lead in this film, which caused many to quickly cite “whitewashing” because he was this white man supposedly sent to be the savior of an entire civilization. I truly think people need to find a better way to spend their days, as those appropriations proved unfounded. Damon’s mercenary, and grizzled William works alongside Commander Lin (Jing Tian) and her army of noble Chinese warriors to repel an attack of a huge infestation the features some nasty looking reptile creatures, and let’s face it, casting Damon in the lead makes sense fiscally, the man is a global star.
Yet that kind of logic doesn’t really come true, and the saying “why didn’t they just do that before?” never seemed quite so pertinent before. The CGI effects aren’t always great, but they try, and with a budget of $150 million, the effort I feel needs to better. Whether it’s the opening helicopter shot or the first battle on the grounds of the titular structure, most of those shots are laughable. Yimou likes to fill his scenes, even at the expense of extras running around doing nothing. If you find yourself gazing during the bigger spectacles you could notice at least a dozen busy bodies running around without a sense of purpose. Chickens with their heads cut off, as that saying goes.
Damon speaks in four word syllables at a time, never completing full sentences without first stopping in the middle for an awkward pause, he sounds much different then you’d probably expect. The script doesn’t help him much either, with the classic trio of lines that scream campiness, but demand to be taken seriously. Most of the cornball lines come from William’s partner in crime and the soul comic relief of the film, Tovar (Pedro Pascal). There also is a subplot involving some guy named Ballard (William Dafoe) that literally makes no sense to the overall vitality of the plot, other than to add an unnecessary obstacle for the main characters, trust me when I say, it goes nowhere.
Yet, at it’s best, “The Great Wall” wants to appeal more to just moviegoers oversees and with already $200 million in Chinese box office receipts, I’d say they are getting their fill. Domestically might be another question, on one hand it won’t be hard for audiences to embrace the cheesy-PG13 carnage that comes with the territory, and on the other, it’s just dumb. People will likely show up for the action, but end up staying because of the hysterical laughs, which may or may not be a bad thing. C+