The Great Wall (2016)

  • Time: 103 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy
  • Director: Yimou Zhang
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe


When a mercenary warrior (Matt Damon) is imprisoned within the Great Wall, he discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of the world. As wave after wave of marauding beasts besiege the massive structure, his quest for fortune turns into a journey toward heroism as he joins a huge army of elite warriors to confront the unimaginable and seemingly unstoppable force.


  • A Chinese-Hollywood co-production with a reported $150 million budget (making it the most expensive film made in China), The Great Wall is an often entertaining action-adventure epic whose visual extravagance often successfully masks glaring deficiencies in narrative logic and characterisation.

    Set during the Song Dynasty, director Zhang Yimou’s first predominantly English-language effort, the film purports to tell one of the legends surrounding the Great Wall, an impressive series of fortifications spanning over 5500 miles and taking 1700 years to build. Certainly the story that unfolds would be difficult to digest as historical fact, considering that it deals with phantasmic creatures called Taotie that come around once 60 years to feed on the human flesh that strengthen the numbers of their species.

    Before one gets a better look at the beasts, however, audiences are introduced to mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) as they’re chased across the Gobi Desert by a horde of Khitan bandits. Seeking shelter in a cave, William and Pero encounter an unseen monster, whose hand William manages to cut off. The next day, they stumble upon a fortress situated in one part of the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by the Chinese soldiers. They are soon introduced to the rest of the film’s key players: General Shao (Zhang Hanyu), Commander Lin (Jing Tian), and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), all of whom marvel over how William was able to get so close to the monster. More importantly, the presence of the monster alerts them that the attack, which they had been expecting, is far earlier than they anticipated.

    Yimou quickly gets to the first of the film’s impressive action sequences as the Great Wall is besieged by a swarm of Taoties. Scale and precision have always been the hallmarks of the Chinese (remember the shock and awe from the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony?), and Yimou unleashes everything in his arsenal for a breathtaking extravaganza of colour-coordinated troops preparing for and engaging in battle with the fearsome creatures. As the bound William and Pero witness, each troop has been rigorously trained in their special skill: the Eagles are the archers, the Tigers in catapulting burning rocks, the Bears are the foot soldiers whilst the Deers are the cavalry. Most impressive of all are Lin’s all-female Cranes, who bungee-jump off the Great Wall in order to spear the monsters below.

    When the film relegates itself to its numerous action sequences, viewer interest is heavily engaged. It’s thrilling to watch such spectacle unfold on the screen. Yet the minute it focuses on its barely sketched characters, it quickly deflates as its overly spelled-out message of the importance of trust is pushed to the forefront. There’s not much to say about the actors, since they don’t have much to work with and they are inevitably overwhelmed by the surroundings and special effects. Not even Damon can sell the character of William or his transition from black powder-seeking mercenary who has managed to survive by not trusting anyone to someone who would sacrifice his freedom in order to help the Chinese defend the Great Wall.

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  • “The last time I saw you, you left me for dead. The the time before that I saved your life! ”

    From time to time me as film buff yearns for a brainless fantasy movie. No need to pay attention because of ingeniously crafted intrigues and ingeniously interwoven stories. The nonsense level of “The Great Wall” is unbelievably high. And at some moments, the action scenes are so exaggerated that I’m sure even the Tao Tie rolled with their eyes. Everyone knows the Chinese Wall served a completely different function. The fact that it’s being used as a defense against a completely different threat, makes the story more original. I bet they’ve sought inspiration in Chinese fables or saga.

    Asking Matt Damon to play the leading role, obviously would lead to critical reviews where words like “commercial objective” and “pursuit of profit” are used. Apparently the makers were sure of their case, because the budget for this movie was around $ 135 million. I bet they haven’t spent much of it on the script writers. But looking at the impressive images with tight choreographed colorful Chinese armies fighting against hordes of green monsters, you know immediately which department absorbed the largest part of the budget. The props and costume department most probably costed a fortune. Not to mention the used CGI. When the first attack wave commenced, it felt as if I was watching the Chinese version of “The Lord of the Rings”. It resembled the attack on Helms Deep a lot. Or was it something like that particular scene in “World War Z” with those zombies climbing up the walls of Jerusalem?

    This movie isn’t about the construction of the Chinese Wall and isn’t based on historical facts. It’s about William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) who, during their search for a revolutionary black powder, unintentionally get involved in a battle between Chinese forces and mythological creatures which are trying to conquer China already for many years (and after that the whole world). Initially, the two mercenaries are looked at as prisoners only by the Chinese commanders. However, when they get a demonstration of the fighting techniques William and Tovar master (many years of experience after fighting in different wars), the two shrewd fighters are being recruited and they join the battle against those bloodthirsty, lizard-like monsters.

    Casting a well-known Hollywood actor like Matt Damon, assures that a wider film audience is being reached. Another well-known face shows up after a while, namely Willem Dafoe. He’s solely needed to explain why the Chinese commanders speak fluently English. In other words, a negligible role. The rest of the cast only consists of Chinese actors. And there are even a few playing an interesting role. Especially Hanyu Zhang and Andy Lau stood out. For me Tian Jing as commander Lin Mae was an enjoyment to watch. And not only because she’s an extremely beautiful oriental femme fatale. Fortunately, they avoided to give it a romantic twist. No idyllic scenes with this beautiful Chinese fury and the brave hero.

    “The Great Wall” focuses on the action and the immense combat scenes. When you consider this, the film is never boring. And the sometimes humorous dialogues between William and Tovar are also worth mentioning. When you look at the story-line, it all feels kind of ridiculous. And some scenes are utterly exaggerated. The moment Matt Damon slid down a chain, it wasn’t only absurd to watch. The used special effects were extremely bad as well. But above all, the heroic end was grossly exaggerated. All in all, it was less bad than the renowned critics write. “The Great Wall” is still a pleasant treat. Some critic wrote that the Tao Tie lacked some realism. I wonder what kind of movie this guy expected to see. In my view, there is always a lack of realism when it comes to a fantasy story. Then again, who am I?

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  • (RATING: ☆ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: D


    Movies can be very informative. For example, The Great Wall tells its historic saga of this epic man-made structure and divulges its real purpose: to protect the people of China from invading monsters. News to me.

    Yes…and other Secrets of the Wall include a battalion os soldiers in color-coded armies called The Nameless Order (who should have remained so) who battled these horrific CGI creatures non-stop. And…a totally miscast Matt Damon saves everyone with his dexterous skills as a mercenary and skilled archer.

    One can see the expensive budget laid out on this ill-conceived epic from its anarchocristic costumes that are a mix of brightly colored armor and Erte-inspired gaudiness to the futuristic weaponry and gadgetry that are loony and yet outlandishly awful. There is much pomp and circumstances that are downright laughable. Still, one just can’t look away from all the glitz and the poor taste on display. Call it a guilty displeasure.

    The screenplay- by-committee is a shamble of mis-conceived thoughts and action. The plot is a series of monotonous combat scenes with little attempt to create any character development or emotional drama. Much of the blame of this movie points directly to writers Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy. In some cases, two heads may be better than one, but here, three heads can only make a dreadful movie.

    The Great Wall tries to latch onto the popular Game of Thrones fantasy genre without any real sense, complexity, or success. Some of the CGI works, most doesn’t. The battle sequences are loud and badly edited and the slo-motion is  continually used becomes mundane. The staged battles are hard to discheper. The direction by Zhang Yimou, though strong on the visual, is extremely weak on  building any suspense, characters, or logic.

    This international production wastes the talents of those on the screen (the aforementioned Mr. Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian,  and Willem DeFoe) and all of the many artisans involved behind the camera.

    The Great Wall is a lot of nonsense. As Confucius might have said, “No good script, no good movie.” or  more succinctly, “Great, it ain’t.”

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