Ever wonder why The Great Wall of China was built? Well, wonder no more! Matt Damon and director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) present to you the reason. Well, they offer one of the legends, actually, and I’m pleased to announce, it’s entertaining at the very least. The Tag Line for the movie is “1700 years to build. 5,500 miles long. What were they trying to keep out?” Okay. I’m fascinated. What do you have in store for us?
What they have is something that’s a visual sensation. What they achieve is hard to look away from so make sure you’re not going to have to have a potty break. There’s a large army, complete with drums, which has protected China from attack for centuries, known as “Nameless Order.” They’re dressed brightly and vividly which is odd for battle but they’re pretty all the same. Another ocular wonder is what they’re fighting to save China from; a vicious horde known as the Tao Tei. They’re huge and have massive limbs and hungry mouths with sharp teeth… the better to eat their multi-hued prey. The enormous army has used arrows, spears, “black powder” (gunpowder) and acrobatics to defend themselves for ages and then… along comes a couple of European mercenaries to show them how it’s done. They are William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal). Even though helping fight mythical creatures wasn’t exactly what they had in mind, it’s what is now on their plate. Why they’re there is they heard of this mysterious black powder and figure they can fetch themselves a few bucks if they get their hands on some. Their plan has just “hit a wall”, so to speak.
When they get to the wall, they’re seen as outsiders, of course, and are jailed immediately. Then comes the horde that the army wasn’t expecting so soon, and who can shoot better than anyone?! Guess! I’ll wait. You got it! William. So, he helps and they’re now trusted to roam free and offer their sage wisdom on how to defeat the terrible brood. There’s also a woman William notices and she, him. She’s Commander Lin Mae (Jing) who might not fully trust William but likes what she sees. This is a good thing because after they show their charges the black powder and its uses, they cannot let their secret escape the barriers. As a matter of fact, a white man by the name of Ballard (Dafoe) wandered up to find out about the powder and that was twenty-five years ago. Well, at least he learned a second language and now he has some pals who might help him escape.
The 3D during the battle scenes is spectacular; worth the ticket price if you’re interested in dodging spears being thrown at your face. However, when there’s downtime, it sort of pulls you out of the story and instead reminds you that you’re watching people on a movie set. You can visualize the green screen behind them. For the most part, it was eye-catching and made the film come alive during the epic fight scenes when people were diving off the wall, twirling through the air on bungee cords before bouncing back and when balloons were being used to get to the city to warn them of a probable attack. What made this work is that outside of a hint of romance, Ballard wanting to escape and a power struggle between Tovar and William, the movie was all action. It calls itself an action, thriller and it is one. It’s a little slow to start but once it gets going, you’ll enjoy yourself for its beauty and style. My guess is if you’re enthusiastic about anime and have a good time holding a controller in front of a screen, you’ll especially relish in the performance of Tian Jing who runs around looking like a character straight out of a Japanese line of games and toys. If this sounds like you, check it out at a theatre but I’d make it to the matinee. But be mindful of the fact that The Great Wall isn’t going to be great for all audiences. It’ll be most admired by the younger generation so, mom and dad, drop off the kids and maybe run into something else… this one just might not be for you.