Sometimes a film can use all of the elements of a B-movie (thin plot, science fiction, horror, fantasy, etc.) to make a grand statement or to take leaps in visual style. And sometimes a film will use those elements to produce nothing more than a really glossy B-movie.
“The Great Wall” has some initial promise before it squarely lands in the latter category.
Set in feudal China, two European warriors in search of black powder, William (Matt Damon, sporting some serious hair and an odd accent) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), run smack into the Great Wall of China and a massive army prepared for battle.
The pair are taken captive and discover the true purpose of the Great Wall, to keep out a horde of powerful, murderous creatures (think if someone crossed a mountain lion with a lizard and then cranked its aggression meter up to 11).
It is during these first few battles when the movie is at its most ingenious and visually stunning, as the army unveils all manner of creative weapons and attacks to repel the creatures.
Beyond that, though, there is not much more of interest — beyond chaos and body count — that takes place. There are some wooden, not-quite-romantic scenes between Damon and Chinese star Tian Jing, who plays the highly-capable commander of the army Lin Mae. Willem Dafoe shows up in an odd role as a fellow European who has spent decades living with the Chinese while longing to escape with his own supply of black powder.
Probably the most interesting thing about this movie is the political implications of its production. “The Great Wall” was directed by talented Chinese director Yimou Zhang and marks the closest collaboration to date between Hollywood and the China Film Group Corporation, the movie studio that is run by the Chinese government.
Landing Damon is quite the coup and speaks to the increasingly international movie market. A movie no longer has to make it big in the U.S. to be a success, a fact movie studios and now, apparently, A-list actors are increasingly aware.
As for this movie, if you want to see Matt Damon fight Chinese monsters, then you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for even just a little more depth or substance than that, then you should probably just keep on looking.
“The Great Wall” is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence.