Shot in China with a largely Chinese cast and director, the new movie The Great Wall inexplicably stars Matt Damon in a movie that may have looked at first glance like a historic epic.
Well, it isn’t. It’s a monster movie.
But before I go any further, let me start by saying that Matt Damon is really, really bad in this movie. His delivery is flat for every line. He doesn’t seem bored or anything. He doesn’t overact like his costar Willem Dafoe often does. He just seems miscast.
Damon stars as William, a European mercenary (presumably English) who is first seen riding across the desert at high speeds while being pursued by Mongol horsemen. We find out William and his group are looking to go to China to get their hands on some gunpowder. They’ve been losing people along the way and are down to the last five guys.
That number becomes two when something comes in that night and kills three others. William and the other survivor Tovar (Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal) somehow manage to kill the thing and take an arm with them. They soon find themselves captured at the Great Wall by the Nameless Order, protectors of the Wall who know a few things about the Tao Tie, the creature that attacked William and Tovar during the night. Mostly, the Order is shocked they managed to kill one so easily.
It seems every so many years, the Tao Tie attack the Wall and try to eat as many people as possible for their queen. The Wall and the Nameless Order were established to stop them. And despite the fact that a Tao Tie has never been captured (they even drag their wounded and dead away when they retreat), the Order sure does know a lot about them.
I will add, though, that Damon, despite appearances, doesn’t end up as a “white savior” character. If anything, the film’s climax suggests good things can come when China and the West work together, and William is (unsurprisingly) more or less seduced into helping the Order for no clear reason whatsoever.
Truth be told, the movie was more dull than anything else. Damon’s flat delivery combined with a rather by-the-numbers script don’t really do much for me. The one thing I did enjoy was the production design. Director Zhang Yimou has a long resume in his native China, and even directed the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The synchronized drumming then may even be called back a bit in this movie. The brightly-colored armor of the Nameless Order, the various weapons and booby traps employed within the Wall itself, even some of the desert landscapes, speaks to a great deal of eye candy. It’s just too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t really do much. Six out of ten Tao Ties.