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'The Great Wall' - Movie Review

Matt Damon in 'The Great Wall'. Pic/The Great Wall's Twitter account
Matt Damon in 'The Great Wall'. Pic/The Great Wall film's official Twitter account

'The Great Wall'
U/A; Action/Thriller
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe
Rating: 2.5/5

This period epic of an indeterminate timeline is based on one of the many legends associated with the building of the Great Wall of China. The opening texts explain that quite succinctly.

This film is a first on many counts. Matt Damon has never worked in a Chinese film previously and Zhang Yimou has also made this his first salvo to explore world-wide prospects through this Hollywood integration. With screenwriters from Hollywood charting the course of the narrative and Yimou holding the reins, much was expected from this film. Unfortunately those expectations were belied.

William Garin (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are prisoners of the Chinese military garrison that guards the great wall. They've come in search of black powder and it's only their bravery in cutting off the paw of a fearsome beast known as Toatie, that saves them from being killed. In the first onslaught by the Toaties, William is able to showcase his exemplary warrior skills - enough to impress the Chinese. So when the next attack comes he is fighting in full regalia alongside the only female and English-speaking commander, Lin (Jing Tiang), at the outpost. William has chosen to stay even after Tovar leaves, egged on by Ballard (Dafoe), who has been in detention at the camp for 25 years, teaching English to Lin and strategist Wang (Lau). But the toaties have multiplied and have begun to overrun the kingdom. Only a death defying airborne stunt can end their imminent domination.

There's spectacle and craft to be had here. CGI is overwhelming. While the special effects are impressive they don't have a unique feel to lend to the experience. Zhang does well to exhibit China's military supremacy during ancient times and even lends an ode to feminism of the distant past by having female bungee jumping soldiers man that branch of attack all by themselves. The monster attacks look like a page out of 'The Lord of The Rings' trilogy and it's the color coding and costumes that make this look a little different from what we've seen in the past. Also the lighted sky lanterns, the fired-up balloon contingent and the strategic incrementing of the offensive makes for a visceral high. Unfortunately, the writing doesn't allow for much attachment. And having a white man save the day for the Chinese is certainly not pluralism the way we'd like to see it.

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