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The Great Wall Movie Review

The Great Wall (2017) movie poster The Great Wall

Theatrical Release: February 17, 2017 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Zhang Yimou / Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy (screenplay); Max Brooks, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (story);

Cast: Matt Damon (William Garin), Jiang Tian (Commander Lin Mae), Pedro Pascal (Pero Tovar), Willem Dafoe (Ballard), Hanyu Zhang (General Shao), Eddie Peng Yu-yen (Commander Wu/Tiger), Lu Han (Peng Yong/Cadet Bear Corps), Kenny Lin (Commander Chen/Eagle Corps), Junkai Wang (The Emperor), Zheng Kai (Shen), Cheney Chen (Imperial Guard), Xuan Huang (Commander Deng/Deer Corps), Andy Lau (Strategist Wang)

 

While his friend and screenwriting partner Ben Affleck has had his ups and downs, Matt Damon has impressively managed to avoid making bad movies in the twenty years since they both became stars via their Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting. The worst I would accuse Damon of giving us are Ocean's Twelve, a disappointing sequel sandwiched between a great and a good heist comedy;
The Martian, an acclaimed blockbuster nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, and five other Oscars; and The Brothers Grimm, a fairly indefensible Terry Gilliam fantasy. But now, Damon has broken tradition and made The Great Wall, a movie as spectacularly bad as you fear it might be. That's right, stop the presses: a period monster movie opening in February is terrible.

Damon plays William, a Westerner with an unplaceable accent who is in 11th Century China with his pal Tovar (Pedro Pascal) looking for the fabled black powder of immense weaponizable power. Instead, the two mercenaries find a giant reptilian beast, whom William slays with one swift blow of his sword and takes the slain's arm as a trophy he hopes someone can identify. The men are taken in by Chinese officials, who initially doubt their story but come to believe them and welcome their input. China, you see, is under siege by these legendary monsters that emerge every 60 years to do damage.

In "The Great Wall", Matt Damon plays William Garin, the white knight who just might save China from ferocious monsters.

The Chinese have measures in place to try to defend their Great Wall from these nimble threats. Now, they also have William with his confidence and archery skills. Monsters attack, William is a white knight. That happens two or three times and that's the whole movie.

William and Tovar are prisoners some of the time. William comes up with the idea to capture a monster alive by hooking it like a whale. Magnets evidently disrupt the electromagnetic frequency by which the hordes of monsters communicate. And naturally, the monsters have a queen. Capture the queen, save China.

There is an almost romance between William and an attractive Chinese commander (Jing Tian). Willem Dafoe features as a Westerner who came looking for black powder twenty-five years ago and has been here ever since. And a number of monsters are killed in all sorts of ways without ever putting the PG-13 rating in doubt.

There are some Chinese people in "The Great Wall" (including Andy Lau, Hanyu Zhang, Kenny Lin, Jing Tian, and Xuan Huang), but all are secondary to global superstar Matt Damon.

A $150 million American-Chinese co-production, The Great Wall is directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) but written by a sextet of Americans including Bourne scribe Tony Gilroy, World War Z author Max Brooks,
the duo who wrote Disney's Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and The Last Samurai's Edward Zwick.

This isn't a disaster movie, but it is a disaster of a movie. The Great Wall is mindless fun, minus the fun. You know how some movies are so bad they're good? The Great Wall is so bad it's bad. Okay, so this paragraph might be my attempt to get a pull quote on The Great Wall's Blu-ray cover. I might not be doing it right, but I do stand by everything I've said. Can Shawn Edwards of Fox-TV say the same?

Getting back on track, had I not seen The Space Between Us two weeks earlier, The Great Wall would have a pretty firm grip on The Worst Movie of 2017 title, but the year is young. Still, I can't think of anything nice to say about this movie. It is in 3D. It ran 15 minutes shorter than Google told me it would. It could remind some viewers of Brendan Fraser's The Mummy, whether or not that's a good thing. Matt Damon produced one of last year's best films, Manchester by the Sea. And he has two promising films scheduled for this year: a satire written and directed by Alexander Payne (Nebraska, Sideways) and a crime mystery that George Clooney wrote with the Coen Brothers.

In the grand scheme of things, paying for bad movies is a minor vice. But supporting this type of crude, dumb, transparently commercial and pandering cinema does send the wrong message to Hollywood, China, and the rest of the world.

Related Reviews:
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Matt Damon: The Martian Contagion Ocean's Thirteen Jason Bourne We Bought a Zoo Invictus Elysium
Willem Dafoe: Platoon The Last Temptation of Christ Dog Eat Dog eXistenZ The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Directed by Zhang Yimou: Hero
From the Writers: World War Z Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Armageddon Rogue One: A Star Wars Story The Sorcerer's Apprentice
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Reviewed February 17, 2017.



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