Director: Yimou Zhang
Writer: Carlo Bernard
Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Defoe
Guns for hire travel to Asia in search of the next great weapon, black powder. Their quest is interrupted by a massive army charged with protecting the great wall, who holds them as prisoners. Unfortunately for the mercenaries, their captors are knee deep in a battle to save their land from a horde of angry bloodthirsty beasts. Matt Damon stars in this grand action adventure as “William,” a talented soldier who brings his combat expertise to the far east. Unlike some epic battle films, there isn’t a long tedious build up to the action. There aren’t any battle training montages. The beasts aren’t some mysterious force to be discovered at the end. The war between man and beast occurs almost instantly and the creatures are front and center from the start.
Director Yimou Zhang is known for directing some of cinema’s most beautiful masterpieces. While his earlier works like, “Curse of the Golden Flower” are bright and offer more stylized fight scenes. The Great Wall is darker and grittier to match the terrifying images of the Tao Tie monsters. The monsters are an homage to special effects mastery with their incredible detail. Some of the most fascinating examples of movie magic, occur as the massive horde storms The Great Wall. From the top of the Wall, they resemble a living carpet covering the countryside and up close they are a nightmare inducing combination of mammal and reptile. In one of the most notable battle scenes, William comes face to face with the monstrosity giving the audience a full scope of how powerful and dangerous they truly are. Though much of the movie is filled with the grime and brutality of battle Zhang somehow manages to weave in some of the artistry of ancient Chinese culture, through magnificent costuming and intricate combat formation. The presentation of the female warriors is an example of his aesthetic. Draped in bright uniforms the fierce female warriors dive from the top of the wall with spears while tethered at the waist so they spring back, like a bungee cord.
Of the female fighters in the film, none is as powerful as Commander Lin Mae. Tian Jing portrays the noble Commander with the respect the post deserves. Not only is she a high ranking officer she is also among the most skilled soldiers on the battlefield. Naturally, as the only woman in the production with a speaking role, it would be logical to assume she would be the love interest for William. This isn’t that kind of film. The audience is spared the schmaltzy forced coupling and fairytale vibe that often comes attached to action films. The film as a whole may be a Sci-Fi fantasy but the interactions are more authentic and don’t insult our intelligence with an instant love connection or the usual damsel in distress archetype. The pair are fierce competitors and remain focused on the job at hand fighting as equals. In one of the pivotal scenes, William having failed quickly relents control and concedes to the Commander for her to make the final shot.
The Great Wall is a fun thrilling movie experience. Though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the film completely we highly recommend the 3D experience. The special effects truly grab you and are realistic enough to have you jumping in your seat. Aside from the action, the occasional sweeping views from the top of the wall are reason enough to justify the added expense. We don’t anticipate this film being considered for an Oscar next year, but we do believe it is enjoyable enough to see in the theaters. See this film for the sheer enjoyment of it. Don’t go expecting any actual historical truth or poking holes in the plot. Just grab some overpriced snacks at the concession stand find a good seat, sit back and enjoy!