Movie review: Bright colors, plenty of action, not much else in ‘Great Wall’
–This is a time of year when we get some interesting options at the Box Office. While some are running around trying to catch up on the Academy Award nominees they missed in December, new movies with a decidedly different tone are filling the rest of the screens.
This usually results in a mix of Valentine’s Day themed films, a few comedies, some cheap horror films and plenty of action films. Many of those action films aren’t really concerned with things like story and character development.
When you see Matt Damon fronting a film, you might expect a little cinematic depth. But “The Great Wall” more closely resembles a February action film in its formula, offering plenty of action, some interesting set pieces, and little else.
And for those that think it’s some kind of historical drama, think again.
“The Great Wall” is set in medieval times, and does tell the story of a pair of westerners — William (Damon), attempting what I can only assume is an Irish accent, and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) — who head to China in search of black powder that can help in their soldier-for-hire endeavors. They don’t get a warm welcome and, soon, encounter a dangerous creature they have to defeat.
In their travels, the two come across the Great Wall, and the army that protects it. Normally strangers are killed to keep the secrets of the land, but when the General (Hanyu Zhang) and his Chief Strategist (Andy Lau) discover they defeated a creature, William and Tovar become sources of information. The two soon discover their captors are preparing to face an army of the creatures that threaten to take over the world.
After proving their skill, William and Tovar are invited to join the battle. They also encounter another westerner, Ballard (Willem Dafoe), who offers them a plan to escape with all the black powder they could want.
William, however, is drawn to the fierce Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), and begins to see this fight as a chance for redemption.
“The Great Wall” comes from director Yimou Zhang, who previously delivered western nation crossover films like “The Golden Flower,” “Hero,” and “House of Flying Daggars.” He brings a similar sense of visual style and choreographed action to this film. And if that’s all you’re looking for — a couple hours of battles and CGI — then you’re in luck.
But “The Great Wall” is hardly a great or memorable film. I was drawn to the interesting use of colors and some of the lavish sets. And the action pieces, for the most part, are well done. I would argue that the final battle is a little too effects-driven. But There isn’t much in the way of developing a story or characters.
We get pieces of character development for William and for Lin Mae, and there’s the hint of a friendship/romance that’s never really defined and never goes anywhere. The rest of the characters are fairly flat. Tovar seems to be there for some comic relief, and Ballard is basically a one-dimensional plot device that doesn’t even really seem to fit in the narrative.
There was potential here, but it quickly devolves into something else. The biggest point of interest might be trying to figure out why an actor like Damon agreed to take this part in the first place. That, or trying to figure out what he’s doing with his accent. None of that is a great sign when considering the quality of the film.
“The Great Wall” isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just a mediocre one. That’s likely why it was dropped on an unassuming week in February with little fanfare.
“The Great Wall” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sequences of fantasy action violence.
One star out of four.