by Monica Hayes
When you see an A-list star showing up in a movie in February, chances are there’s a reason that a studio chooses to hide said star’s involvement in the potential debacle. Despite financing from abroad, The Great Wall appears set-up to be Matt Damon’s ‘great fall.’
What can you say about The Great Wall? Let’s see: It’s pretty, it’s colorful, full of action, familiar monsters, familiar faces, familiar director. That’s about it.
William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are mercenaries who are on a quest to find the black powder – the substance that turns air into fire – to bring back to the West. What they find is unbelievable.
Both mercenaries are attacked while camping by something neither can explain. The next morning, while being chased by bandits, they stumble upon the Wall and are captured and questioned by a secret military faction called the Nameless Order. The Nameless Order is a division of the Imperial Army whose sole purpose is to protect the Great Wall from the Taotie – alien monsters who rise every 60 years to keep man’s greed in check.
Suspicious of the real reason why William and Tovar are there, the Order decides to place them in the dungeon, but before they are detained, the wall is attacked by the queen and her drones. The mercenaries observe a colorful army of highly organized and skilled soldiers where each color represented a different division/responsibility preparing for battle. When the Taotie queen directs a wave of drones to attack the wall, and the army mobilizes into a beautifully choreographed ballet of destruction.
During the battle, William and Tovar join in thereby saving an unskilled soldier’s life. Their actions during the battle garner the respect of the top commander. After the fight, they meet Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), who like them, traveled in search for the black power 25 years ago. Together, they plot to steal the power and escape the next time the Taotie attack. However, instead of following through with their plans, William decides to stay and help defend the wall against the Taotie.
The Great Wall is cinematically gorgeous and is very reminiscent of the Wu Xing color theory that was used in The House of Flying Daggers (2004). It should be given both movies were directed by the same director, Zhang Yimou. The CGI Taotie all look like the first cousin of the Hell-Hounds used by the Super Predators Clan in the movie Predators (2010) and the queen looked like a mash up of a Piranha’s head and a Hell-Hound body. The plot, however, was subpar, long drawn out scenes, very little background to each character and the Taotie. If it weren’t for the pretty colors, I would have been sleeping.