"The Great Wall" has great visuals, but not a great plot
Epic battles, grotesque monsters and stunning visuals define “The Great Wall,” starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Andy Lau and Willem Dafoe. The story features two European mercenaries, William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal), who travel to China’s Great Wall with the goal of acquiring the famed Black Powder, a legendary powder said to be extraordinarily powerful.
Little do they know that there is much more to the Great Wall than meets the eye. It is the Chinese main line of defense against a powerful evil force sent from the Gods. They are monsters known as Taoties, whom awake every 60 years to wage destruction upon the earth in response to the greed of man. The brave men and women who are called upon to defend the world from these beasts are known as members of the Nameless Order.
While initially the Nameless Order is extremely skeptical of William and Tovar, the pair proves their worthiness in a fight against the monsters, during which William manages to kill one with his arrow. This is where the most plot development occurs in the film. A rift develops between William and Tovar over their responsibility to help the Order. Tovar and another Westerner, who has been held at the Wall for many years, choose to leave while William stays behind to help.
I hesitate to call the plot bad because it does not take away from the movie. It is just not anything that viewers have not seen before and fits into the stereotypes of the action genre. Basically, if you are looking for a film with a riveting plot and deep character development this is not the one to see. That being said, it does make up for that in some aspects with its stunning visual scenery and special effects.
Filmed entirely in China, "The Great Wall" contains spectacular scenery that really does come alive thanks to 3D. Most films do not use 3D in an innovative way but "The Great Wall" is an exception. Monsters leap from the screen into your seat, making it feel up close and personal. Slow motion is also used throughout the production in necessary and unnecessary ways. From mountains piercing the sky, to hot air balloons, to fiery catapults descending onto the monsters, "The Great Wall" contains excellent visuals.
The film is director Yimou Zhang’s first foray into the American arena as well as his first English language film, although English subtitles are frequently used because many of the Chinese characters speak Mandarin when conversing with each other. It is the most expensive film ever made in China with a budget of $135 million. Three walls were built in order to replicate the Great Wall of China, which unfortunately could not be used for filming.
While Matt Damon does nothing to hurt his character, he does not have much of an opportunity to help it either. It is not a type of role one would expect Damon to play. There is not much room for character development. Even the relationship he has with his friend Tovar does not come across that strongly.
There is a glimpse of a potential romantic relationship between Damon’s character and Tian Jing’s character Lin Mae. The film ends without a kiss or even a hug between them so that never comes to fruition. While Damon’s character is an important part of the film, Damon himself could have been replaced by someone else without anyone noticing the difference.
Overall, "The Great Wall" is a fine choice if you’re looking for an average action movie with beyond average special effects and visuals. It is by no means a cinematic masterpiece worthy of an Oscar, but it does its job.
The Great Wall opens in theaters today, Feb. 17.
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