Review: The Great Wall Aims To Mimic Hollywood For All The Bad And None Of The Good
Title: The Great Wall
Director: Yimou Zhang
Summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.
As a liberal, social justice warrior out to ruin fun for everyone else in the world, I’m not above outrage. However, I also know when I should be outraged and when I’m misunderstanding something. When the casting for The Great Wall came out I had to resist the temptation to call out whitewashing. I learned that this was a misunderstanding of culture rather than Hollywood being gross. China is trying to create their own version of Hollywood and if they want to make a worldwide blockbuster they are going to need some sort of white guy in the lead. They are also not as sick of the generic, white male lead as Western audiences are. The Great Wall is China trying to join Hollywood with the huge, CGI filled blockbuster.
The Great Wall features some amazing armor and weapon designs but they clash with a boring story and terrible special effects.
The best way to describe The Great Wall is a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit with a second generation photocopy for the image. Like most disposable action movies straight out of Hollywood, it isn’t all bad. The thing that a lot of people are going to take from this movie are the armors that the Chinese army wears because they are stunning. They are practical but also detailed and bright. The various factions get different colors so there is an immediate visual cue as to what type of warriors we are watching. The all female faction, called The Crane Soldiers, are stunning in their blue armor. The armor is so well done that even the black armor is somehow bright and vibrant. The female soldiers, especially lead actress Tian Jing, are strong, graceful and steal every scene they are in.
However, all of that beauty is against a terrible backdrop. The monsters are rendered so terribly that they don’t look even a little real. For a CGI character or creature to work they need to look like they would plausibly exist in the real world because otherwise they have no weight. In the case of The Great Wall the technology used to render these monsters looks at least a decade old or more. So the piece of these movies that needs to work, the monster fights, aren’t any fun because the gorgeous armor clashes with these terrible looking monsters. They have no weight and for a movie trying to make the fights central to the story, well, it just doesn’t work.
The cast also doesn’t fit and this time you can see the difference based entirely on race. In this case the Chinese cast plays everything so grim and serious without an inch of levity to be seen in them. Then we have Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, and Willem DaFoe who appear to be in a completely different movie. Damon and Pascal are given the jokes, if they can be called that, but instead it comes off as weird tonal shifts as two different sections of the cast act in two different movies. DeFoe is the most perfunctory thing in the entire movie; the entire purpose of his character is to explain why various characters know English.
The Great Wall wants to be a Hollywood blockbuster but took all of the baggage that comes with that and somehow made it worse. The Chinese film industry appears to have arrived at the executive driven creative deadzone that the Western movie industry is in at record pace. Like most forgettable action movies, if it pays for something interesting then no harm and no foul. At least we got some amazing looking armor out of it.