[Early Review] The Great Wall (2016)

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Director: Yimou Zhang

Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau

Screenplay: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence.

 

The Great Wall, from director Yimou Zhang (Hero, The Flowers of War), hits American theaters tomorrow, and I got the chance to see if last night. In the best sense of the phrasing, if you enjoyed the trailer, then this is the movie for you.

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The two survivors of a group of mercenaries, William (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, The Martian) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal, TV’s Narcos, Bloodsucking Bastards), have come to the Great Wall for protection from Khitan bandits and a strange creature that attacked them the night before. They are taken in as prisoners but soon prove themselves when the wall is besieged by large green creatures called the Tao Tie who rise every 60 years as punishment for man’s greed. William soon forms a rocky partnership with the Nameless Order and one of its commanders, Lin (Tian Jang, Special ID, The Man from Macau), but he is torn when a European, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, Finding Dory), shows him and Tovar black powder, the substance their group has been searching for. Struggling between his task to steal the black powder and the hero lying within him, William must decide who he really is, and time is running out.

The Great Wall trailer does a great job of advertising this film. It doesn’t lie, this is a movie about Matt Damon fighting monsters on the Great Wall. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Director Zhang inject eastern sensibilities and style in a dual-production from America and China in order to create a truly unique legend of The Great Wall. I really enjoyed the visual flair and Matt Damon’s excitement for his character, and who doesn’t love Pedro Pascal here. Jian Tang is the real star here, holding her own with big names and stealing scenes with her focus, determination, and passion as Commander Lin.

On the downsides, Willem Dafoe is completely wasted on a subplot that had no place in this film, and Pedro Pascal spends too much time out of the focus of the film. It is when Damon and Jang are together that the film hits its highs. The film’s visual effects are nothing to get really excited about, but it also didn’t take me out of the film.

Now to the controversy. It shouldn’t exist. There should be no controversy. Watch the film first and you will see. Zhang has in recent films tasked high-caliber actors regardless of race to fit roles leading the film. It sells tickets, and William was never meant to be Chinese.

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The Great Wall was a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had so far in 2017 at the theaters. It isn’t trying to win you over, so if the trailer did nothing for you, the movie probably won’t change that. I, personally, enjoyed it immensely.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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