So after all of the time, money and resources spent over the last few months attempting to justify The Great Wall, the movie is finally here, and boy is it bad. There really is no way to sugar coat it, The Great Wall is an all around bad movie. The film was largely criticized when images, and trailers starting coming out, because it follows the formulaic “Western Savior” genre. Matt Damon and the other actors attempted to deflect controversy by saying that people really need to see the movie to understand why it was so much more than that, and that the story they were going to tell is grander than what is on the surface. The problem with all of this is that eventually people are going to see the movie, and The Great Wall is as paint by numbers as you can get. The film tells the story of Matt Damon’s William, who is the greatest archer, and the best warrior, as he arrives at the Great Wall of China to obtain gunpowder, referred to in the film as “Black Powder.” Once he arrives, he finds that the wall does more than keep out unwanted thieves and Mongol hoards, it serves as the front lines of a battle against monsters that seek to take over the planet. While the idea of the Great Wall serving as a barrier to an evil force is actually a pretty cool idea for film, this is carried out so poorly that the final product is so devoid of anything good, that it really is chore to get through. Unfortunately The Great Wall doesn’t even cross into the so bad it’s good territory, which may have made this at least something worth checking out; because had this been a parody, it could have done amazingly well, sort of like a medieval Starship Troopers, but it isn’t, so instead it’s just a really bad movie.
The problem with all of these types of movies is that there really isn’t anything you can do to make it so that whichever eastern culture is represented, they do not come off looking worthless at best, or laughably stupid at worst. The Great Wall seems to have thought they got around this by making a strong female general, who knows the ulterior motives of William, but still made it so every other military character is stereotypically bad. The other issue is the fact that at every key moment William saves the day, and while it is possible that this great archer has found his way into their presence, it seems overly implausible that in the vast army that patrols the wall, there isn’t anybody even close to his level. This is made all that much worse given the sheer amount of soldiers in the army, and the film actually does a good job of showing how large the forces are. In all those brightly colored uniforms it is silly to think there isn’t at least one person with the skill and military knowledge of William. The film tries to justify this by explaining all of the wars he has fought in, and that everything he knows he learned from the various armies of the various countries he has fought for. However the army on the wall, The Nameless Order, has been preparing and fighting these creatures for decades, so surely this must have been somebody who could have come up with the master plan to defeat them, but no William does that too. All of this must mean that even the best soldier in the army must be the second most skilled fighter in the movie right? Wrong, because William’s friend and fellow mercenary Tovar, actor Pedro Pascal, is also shown to be a more capable fighter, and a more cunning warrior than anybody there to protect the wall. It is actually amazing that this movie got made, and again it’s not for lack of a good idea, but an awful script, terrible acting, and a cookie cutter plot should have doomed this project long ago.
There is also no reason that Matt Damon should have been involved with this, because he is better than this movie, though you would know that by watching it. The most noticeable problem right out of the gate is that Damon has chosen the absolute worst accent for this character. It comes from no discernible region, and is jarring from the moment he starts talking, which makes the awful dialogue even less palatable. Even in the moments that call for it, Damon shows no emotion, so the character comes off as one-dimensional as it gets, effectively making any character choices meaningless, as there is no reason whatsoever to like this character. Pascal is also one dimensional, though at least his motivations are clear from start to finish, so you never have to worry about caring what he thinks or does. The only actor to portray a significant member of the Nameless Order soldiers is Tian Jing, and while she is leaps and bounds better than all of the other soldiers, she is still relegated to more of a romantic role, which is a huge disservice to the character they must have intended to create. She is given intelligence, strength, and even displays an adeptness for military strategy, but in most moments still can’t eclipse the greatness that is William the archer.
While almost everything in this is bad, there still is some good, though nothing is great. Director Yimou Zhang is able to showcase the grand scope of this film, and shows off the not only the size of the wall, but large number of soldier that occupy it. When the soldiers first take their place, there is an impressive sequence that shows each group taking their positions, and it is cool to see. Where it falls apart is the following dozen or so similar sequences, that all just show the same soldiers again and again. The beasts are also not that bad looking, and the idea that they can learn, and think, and adapt allows for the battles to change each time the two sides clash. Unfortunately their vulnerability is so bad that it undoes everything that comes before. The pivot point for this comes when they try to capture one, by attacking it with sleeping powder arrows, and when the beast is finally down, it is audibly snoring, which is comically bad.
So is The Great Wall the worst movie in the genre, probably not. Is it everything that the filmmakers said it wasn’t, most certainly. This is one of those movies that has almost no redeeming qualities, and doesn’t even get the distinction of being something worth checking out on streaming services eventually. Avoid this movies at all costs, and maybe even avoid people who like it as well.