‘The Great Wall’ Review: Keeping Monsters at Bay Matt Damon stars in this medieval saga as a sharp-eyed European archer helping Chinese soldiers defend against zombified beasts By Joe Morgenstern
The organizing principle of “The Great Wall” is Lots—lots of Chinese and American money lavished on a remarkably dull spectacle in which lots of medieval Chinese soldiers, plus a European mercenary played by Matt Damon, struggle to repel successive attacks from lots—and we’re talking in the zillions now—of ravening, slavering beasts that behave a lot like zombies. The Great Wall of China wasn’t built to keep out the Mongol hordes, as we’ve been told, but to keep out these digital hordes (who were not, as far as we’re told, asked to finance its construction). That isn’t a bad idea for a fantasy, but the computer-generated monsters, like the film as a whole, are numbingly repetitive, and devoid of any power to move, scare or stir us.
And what, you may ask, is Mr. Damon doing here? Mainly providing a star presence for an expensive movie that was produced, with extensive English dialogue, for the international market. He also seems to be channeling his inner Charlton Heston—his character, known only as William, is stolid as a fence post, except for occasional moments of fugitive charm. But William, who came to China in search of gunpowder, is a formidable archer and a good soul who can’t resist helping the soldiers who captured him, especially since their anti-monster campaign is being led by the lissome Commander Lin (Jing Tian), a young woman warrior of unlimited courage, if limited interest in a hot love affair. (The culminating mood is one of human commonality and international solidarity.)
The director was Zhang Yimou. He’s a seminal figure in Chinese film, the man who directed such small-scale masterpieces as “Red Sorghum” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” then made a different sort of name for himself with lavish spectaculars like “House of Flying Daggers” (martial arts as MGM might have staged them) and the opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. There’s no lack of spectacular sequences or fancy weaponry in “The Great Wall,” the most expensive movie ever produced in China: syncopated drums, incendiary arrows, giant harpoons, explosive grenades, aerial balloons that predate the Montgolfier brothers by several centuries, and an elite battalion of female fighters in gorgeous blue uniforms who swoop down on the monsters like aerialists in a circus designed by Busby Berkeley. Yet there’s not a lot of levity, let alone exuberance. Even the 3-D effects are flat, though I did enjoy dodging one wayward discus. CONTINUE AT SITE
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