You probably already know how crucial China is to Box office takings now. They have saved so many under performing films over the last few years it is unbelievable, and if they end up making Transformers: The Last Knight a huge success like they did the last one we’ll need to have a sit down talk with the country. But China isn’t content to just sit back and watch our movies, they want their own blockbusters now. The Mermaid made over $500m last year, the first ever film to do that without a wide release in North America. Now we have another major blockbuster from China which aims to be just as successful in the USA as it is in the Far East. But is The Great Wall good enough to achieve this feat?
William (Matt Damon, The Borne Identity) and a band of European mercenaries are in China looking for riches and have arrived at the famous Great Wall. However they soon discover why this amazing structure was built as monsters soon start to attack, something that happens every 60 years according to the locals.
If there’s one thing that The Great Wall understands, it knows that if you want film you can munch popcorn to, you need a fun conceit to back up the movie. And this is a really fun idea that lends itself to great action. It’s basically a castle under siege story as a huge Chinese army tries to fend off all of these monsters coming at them.
The plot isn’t the most in-depth thing in the world, there’s a lot of bland beats where the film really does think you are going to have an emotional reaction to what is happening on-screen, but in all honest, it doesn’t need to be. The attraction here are the action and the visuals and anything else is just gravy. But I’m not going to forgive the incredibly forgettable plot because it is hard to remember just minutes after the credits role, never mind a few days after when you have to write a review on the movie.
On the visuals front though, it is a very mixed bag. I do like the colour palette used, I’m sure it’s not historically accurate, as it makes everything very bright and just plain enjoyable to watch. It’s amazing how everything is enhanced when there are bright primary colours just pooping off the screen. One to remember, isn’t Zak Snyder? However while the CGI isn’t exactly bad, everything does look realistic, it is actually way too polished. It all feels too clean, too well done and it is incredibly apparent that pretty much everything you are seeing has been made on a computer. That does take something away from the well choreographed action scenes, especially in a post Mad Max: Fury Road world.
This is where the film completely falls down. Because the plot is completely bland and by the numbers, the film is obviously trying to be great purely on the action. That makes sense really, killing monsters is a universal idea and something that we can all get behind whether we are under capitalism or communism, but if you are going to do that the action needs to be great. But it is over reliant on computer effects and we are in an era where blockbusters are now trying to move away from that sort of thing. It’s an odd throwback, but it’s a throwback to an era we aren’t nostalgic for yet. Maybe in a few years time.
Let’s get to those monsters as well. This could be great fun. Imagine all the monsters they could throw at the Great Wall, the sheer variety could make this film worth a watch. However this is another place where the film makers are very lazy because there is only one type of monster in this movie, and it’s not exactly a killer design. It’s just some bland green lizard thing, and there’s a bigger version which serves as it’s queen. There are some good ideas, the lizard monsters can use the flaps on their necks as shields, but the lack of variety in monsters mean a lack of variety in action. That’s a killer in this film.
And we do have to address the performance of Matt Damon which is absolutely atrocious. The voice he picks is absolutely baffling and makes his character, whatever character there are actually is in this bland rogue to hero arc, a joke rather than someone he can root for. He sounds like one of the people who poorly dubbed Japanese action films back in the 1970s, which is sort of fitting in a way considering the origins of the movie. If you want to know about the other performances, ask someone else. They are all very forgettable and no one makes enough of an impact to make the film more interesting.
I really wanted to like The Great Wall. Having another country make huge blockbusters would be a refreshing change because they would offer very different stories based on their culture. However while this is certainly a different type of story, it actually ends up following much of American blockbusters worst attributes of valuing action and pizazz over good fundamental story telling. You can do a basic story and make a film great, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to make sure everything else is incredibly strong. With the action being decent, and just that, the lack of an interesting story lets everything else down.