Matt Damon embraces his inner Doug McClure in The Great Wall, a shonky but expensive US-China co-production that has its moments but it fails to come together. Yimou Zhang’s would-be epic plays like a big budget B-movie, the type of thing that McClure excelled at during his time as the king of the creature feature. However, this is A-grade stuff and it lacks the punch to work as an enjoyable adventure flick.
Damon and Pedro Pascal play mercenaries who stumble across the Great Wall of China in their search of ‘black powder’ (how could they miss it? The wall, not they powder). Their timing is impeccable because the Chinese are about to be attacked by a horde of Taoties, CGI beasties hungry for a serious bit of Chinese takeaway. Luckily our banter prone heroes are up to the challenge and they’re willing to take on all the Taoties in China.
In a way it’s great to see something like The Great Wall being made, it’s not a remake, a sequel or a comic book adaptation but the film is wounded by bad logic and woeful editing – a monster attack in the opening minutes was so poorly handled I had to watch it twice to even attempt to understand it. The film’s effects swing from spectacular to terrible, with the Taoties being particularly poorly rendered. If they’d but as much care into those monsters as Damon’s man bun then we might have had a winner.
Most of the characters are just sketches and only Damon, Pascal and Tian Jing have anything resembling an arc (even if they are poorly drawn). Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe pops up as a character who serves no purpose other than to give western audiences the chance to see another white actor. Damon and Pascal trade wise-cracks but they never hit the mark and the pair don’t have the chemistry as a convincing double act, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to see a franchise where they travel the globe protecting other iconic tourist attractions from monsters.
I would have loved The Great Wall as a six year old, but sadly six year-olds of the 21st Century will have little interest in watching a pony-tailed Matt Damon shoot arrows at blurry green pixels. The Great Wall might have had lofty aspirations (other that scoring some serious coin from the Chinese movie market) but unlike one of Damon’s arrows, it fails to hit the mark. This might have wanted to be great, but what we get is The Middling Wall – and nobody wants mediocrity!
The Great Wall doesn’t skimp on special features and you get a really good selection of behind the scenes material. I’m finding more and more these days that disappointing movies come with great extras. What’s that about?