THE GREAT WALL delivers a dizzying ride if you’re looking for the entertainment factor
Not sure if you should check out The Great Wall this weekend? Then please accept this belated Valentine’s Day gift from me to you!
Do you like Starship Troopers (1997)??!? Check yes/no and pass this note back to me! There you go, your love note prediction for whether you’ll enjoy or loathe The Great Wall. If you love (or enjoy) Starship Troopers in all its fabulous campy glory, then please join me in having fun watching Yimou Zhang’s 3D eye-feast. If you can’t even be bribed into hate-watching Starship Troopers, then this is not the movie for you. Yes, that’s what it boils down to. This movie is basically a remake of Starship Troopers, albeit set in 10th century-ish China, and with green-blooded quadrupedal fast-moving reptilian aliens, as opposed to futuristic outer space with green-blooded multipedal fast-moving insect aliens. Unfortunately you also get the whitewashing and plot holes you could pilot a medieval hot-air balloon through.
Essentially, to enjoy this movie you need to simply go with it. Accept that, as you don your 3D goggles, you are not in for a cinematic masterpiece. Just sit back and allow yourself to enjoy the ride.
William (Matt Damon, Jason Bourne (2016), The Martian (2015)) and his friend Tovar (Pedro Pascal, Netflix’s Narcos, HBO’s Game of Thrones) come stumbling out of a mountainous wasteland clutching the severed green claw of the mysterious beast that killed their friends. European mercenaries on the hunt for a mythical (and incredibly profitable) “black powder,” they run face-first into a fortress-like stone wall that is packed with legions of highly-trained and lethally-armed soldiers, all waiting for the return of the bloodthirsty Tao Tei. Captured by and subsequently earning the respect of The Nameless Order, William and Tovar learn firsthand the legend of how the Tao Tei came to China, along with the mind-boggling danger they pose to the entire planet. Everything that ensues is essentially what you see in the trailers: aliens, fighting, swords, arrows, jumping, heroism, trust, more aliens and OH YEAH IT’S IN 3D!
To be fair, The Great Wall tells you from the get-go that you shouldn’t expect historical accuracy…literally within the first minute, you’re informed that this is about one of the legends of the Great Wall of China. Everything after can only really be enjoyed if you accept that pretty much the entire story is complete and utter fantasy. The visuals are exquisitely detailed in vivid colors, the sounds are rich and the story is engaging. You will absolutely root for an army that has trained since childhood to fight this supernatural foe while relying absolutely on trust in one another. The good guys hit their marks precisely on cue and the bad guys get their comeuppance. You have an underdog sidekick to cheer for and a sneaky bad guy to hate. And did I mention we even have all of these things in 3D?
None of this can mask the glaring flaws in The Great Wall, however. The white savior theme is painful: we’re asked to believe that Special Snowflake William is such a badass archer that he alone can help save an entire nation based on having watched a few whale hunts, as opposed to an army that has spent centuries training to combat this specific enemy. Willem Dafoe’s Ballard has no reason or right to still be sneaking around looking 100% untrustworthy, his very existence is insulting to The Nameless Order’s (honorable) martial law. Damon seems to shave a layer or three off his baffling accent along with his ragged beard, leaving his character irritatingly without much of a background as opposed to intriguingly mysterious motivations. I can forgive many things in the interest of a fun watch (hence my love of Starship Troopers), but the plot holes in this film grate on the nerves throughout.
Is this still a movie worth seeing? Yes, if you aren’t here for a cerebral experience. The less you expect of The Great Wall, the more you will enjoy it.