Saturday, February 18, 2017

Movie Review: "The Great Wall" (2017)

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Director: Yimou Zhang
Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

European mercenaries in search of black powder find themselves at the Great Wall of China. Once there, they join the Nameless Order, the Chinese army stationed at the Wall, in a fight against a hoard of centuries-old monsters that attack every 60 years.

"The Great Wall" is directed by Yimou Zhang, who is known for his epic visual treats like "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." It stars Matt Damon as William, a European mercenary with an unplaceable accent and a dude-bro ponytail. Though we have heard some claim he is meant to be a character of Irish descent, Damon sure as hell doesn't have an Irish accent. Joining him is Pedro Pascal as Spanish mercenary Tovar. The two have come to China in search of a great new weapon known as 'black powder.' When the two arrive at The Great Wall of China, they are confronted with a vast army known as the Nameless Order that is stationed at the Wall to defend the capital from ancient beings known as Tao Tei, or lizard-like dinosaur monster creatures who attack every 60 years and grow smarter with each attack. One of the pprincipalcommanders in this massive army is Lin Mae, played by Tian Jing. There is no trust between she and William at first, but they may need to learn to trust each other for their help and skills in order to fight these hell-beasts. Also in the film are Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Hanyu Zhang, Lu Han, and Kenny Lin, among others. 

"The Great Wall" is a fantasy action epic. By far, the most interesting part of the film is the Nameless Order itself and the various specialty units in color-coded uniforms and gear that make up this army. The coolest of these groups is the all female unit dressed in blue, led by Commander Lin Mae. The specialty of this particular unit is to bungee jump off the Great Wall and spear at the attacking monsters below in an amazing display of unity, skill, and training. There are many different colored uniforms in this army, ranging from steel gray to glossy gold and deep red. These costumes are downright gorgeous, and as the soldiers fight, bang drums, and march in perfect order, it's truly a sight to behold, much like the opening ceremony of the Olympics directed by Yimou Zhang several years ago. These colorful visuals are a trademark of his films. In fact, all of the practical elements are stunningly beautiful and expertly crafted. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the CGI'ed portions of the movie, which look substandard at best. The large scale battle sequences feel a bit underwhelming as it all translates into mindless chaos rather than something worthwhile.

The acting from Matt Damon, we're sad to say, is one of the worst performances we've seen from him. As we mentioned above, his accent is horrible, and the cadence of his speech and the way he delivers his lines is just odd. It's almost as if those behind the scenes wanted him to put on an accent to distinguish himself from his usual Damon-and-Boston-esque affair, but during his audition, they cringed so badly at the thought of him putting on a bad Irish accent that they just said, "screw it, do what you want," and as a result, we're left with this bizarre, shaky, uber-dictated farce of an accent. Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe don't get much to do here. By far, the most compelling character and performance is Tian Jing's. She's clearly a strongly written character, the one with the biggest arc, and she gives the best performance as well. The narrative of this film is completely topsy-turvy and there are times when the pacing grinds to a complete standstill. Other times, it feels as though there are two separate films being combined into one jumbled, disorganized, never fully intersecting eyesore. The result is a mostly boring spectacle that's not so spectacular.

The best thing "The Great Wall" has going for it is the fantasy elements and gadgetry surrounding the wall itself, but this gets swept away by the feeble attempt at a big budget monster story with terrible looking monsters and bad performances. These bad portions overshadow what's good about this fantasy drama epic and fashion it into a mediocre film.

My Rating: 4.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~36%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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