When I first heard of The Great Wall, I was unimpressed. I heard the cries of whitewashing and quickly climbed on the bandwagon. The first trailers did nothing to dissuade me from this this viewpoint.
I then saw a trailer that introduced the idea of monsters. I will freely admit that my mind immediately jumped to Chinese dragons. In my head I was all, “Fuck Yeah!” The idea of the Great Wall being built to defend China from monsters was intriguing. I asked my friends Rob & Terry if they would like to go see The Great Wall with me and they said yes.
The Great Wall is, at it’s heart, a gamer movie. The plot is a straightforward adventure scenario. Our intrepid adventurer, William, is on a mission to find black powder and bring it back to europe to become rich. He and his comrade Tovar are the only survivors of their caravan to reach the Great Wall. Their lives are spared when it is discovered that they have defeated one of the monster that has been assaulting the wall on their own. What follows is William’s process of discovering what it takes to defend the wall from the monsters and what it takes for him to trust someone one. The visuals are well done, and the acting is good, if a bit predictable.
Spoiler Warnings On!
I loved the costume design. The army that stood watch on the Great Wall was divided into different functions. Each function had a different style of armor. Their armor was very stylized animals with a particular color. The most flamboyant were the blue crane units which were composed entirely of women. Their job was to leap from platforms on the wall into the monsters that were climbing up in order to slay them before they reached the top. The colorful armor made what could have been a dark and brooding movie something much more vibrant and visually exciting.
I also appreciated that they took the time to create an army unit that was entirely composed of women. The unit’s leader also happened to be the general’s favorite commander. The twist comes when the general is grievously injured. Instead of going with what would be standard, he gives command of the army to Commander Lin Mae, the leader of the all female unit. in addition, there are no points in the movie where her decisions are questioned by her commanders. Her orders are treated just like any other general and this was refreshing to see and unexpected.
The visuals on the movie were also gorgeous. The monsters in the movie are sadly not chinese dragons. The monsters were Tao Tie, a mix of fu dog and demon. The look was something that was definitely chinese in origin. The CGI was well done with there only being a few instances where I could call out the effects for being obvious. There is also a scene at the climax of the film that is beautiful. William and Mae are fighting up the inside of a pagoda. The sun is shining through the windows creating a myriad of rainbows through which the two fight and move to save the day. It was wonderful!
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Matt Damon was not the whitewashing that I was lead to believe he would be. william’s character provides the initiating action which brings the audience into the film. He and his companion bring a base reason for seeking out this foreign culture. They originally are seeking to exploit it for it’s riches without any knowledge of the true richness present. As William moves through the events that unfold around the wall he comes to appreciate this new culture as well as rethink his own perspective. It strays far from the idea of whitewashing and outside of William and Tovar, the main characters are chinese. In addition, William is not the sole savior in the movie. Lin Mae and Tovar both take turns rescuing our erstwhile protagonist and the climax of the movie require both Lin Mae and William to work in concert.
The Great Wall is a wonderful gamer movie and an excellent B Movie with grade A effects. It does everything I would want out of a gamer movie without sacrificing a solid design aesthetic. The plot is straightforward and the acting is acceptable. Well worth seeing at a matinee, especially if you are a gamer.
Three out of Four bear paws!