MOVIE REVIEW – The legends surrounding the famous Great Wall inspired this historical fantasy flick with Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Williem Dafoe as western rogue mercenaries wanting to steal the secret of gunpowder. Forget real history: it’s all about monsters invading medieval China with spectacular 3D battles in a capably directed fantasy movie.
Directing China’s most expensive production so far, with Hollywood superstars, the well-known Chinese director Zhang Yimou capably gives period fantasy-action “The Great Wall” the look and feel of a Hollywood blockbuster. While the movie has, of course, real historical roots being about the Great Wall and all, it’s a rather a fantasy war movie, reminiscent of Blizzard’s games, like Warcraft and Starcraft. Funny thing that while the American Warcraft itself failed last year, this Chinese movie doesn’t disappoint.
“Whitewashing”, my arse!
Those who ranted against the project as another case of Hollywood “whitewashing” in which Matt Damon saves China from dragons may have to bite their tongue. While the star of the movie is indeed Matt Damon, seconded by roguish Pedro Pascal and scheming Williem Dafoe, those European actors are well-implemented in this Chinese medieval world, where they all play ruthless mercenaries, came in the country to steal wanting to steal gunpowder from the Chinese. It’s about as much “whitewashing”, as The Shogun TV series was some 30 years ago: not a bit.
Damon and Pascal are both believable and entertaining as the two mercenary companions, and while the scenario is bit simplistic, it still lets the actors provide both an excellent performance – especially Pascal as the more cynical and selfish one, but still aiding his friend in the midst of every deadly combat.
In fact, every more or less important character in the movie fit well in the story, neither of them feel overexposed or having too little screen time. (Saw Gerrera in Rogue One I am looking at you.) In fact, the scenario, as simply written as it is, gives most of them a great character arc. It’s surprising to see that the scenario, where all fantasy action movies mostly failed last year (Rogue One, Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed) works so well in all his simplicity. We are quickly introduced here in the Chinese mythology and the historical setting, without either over-explanation or missing some important details.
Invasion of the mean-looking giant frogs
The other aspect where this Chinese flick excels the visual world. Here 3D means real, spectacular 3D, with arrows flying out or Chinese pollaxes poking out from the screen – it’s not just some cheap gimmick without true 3D effects, like in some of the sci-fi/fantasy/superhero movies I saw last year. The visceral combat sequences against the monsters are also both well-directed and also quite original, with female soldiers vaulting from the huge wall hung on ropes so they can be pulled back – if they survive at all.
The flood of the creepy looking monsters (which reminded me the zergs of Starcraft) is also impressive, which puts to shame Starship Troopers.
A solid, spectacular fantasy action movie
Overall I was pleased with The Great Wall. It nicely mixes Chinese mythology with a bit of history and well-filmed fantasy combat sequences, where finally 3D is used well. While the scenario is somewhat predictable, it still tells an interesting story, with well-written characters all having a great character arc, without too much cheese or tonnes of unnecessary and boring dialogues squeezed in it. It’s neither Kurosawa, nor the Lord of the Rings, and nobody will earn an Oscar for this movie, but it’s an entertaining blockbuster which succeeds where so many Hollywood movies of the same kind failed last year.