16th Jun2017

‘The Great Wall’ Blu-ray 3D Review

by Joel Harley

Stars: Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, Hanyu Zhang, Han Lu, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Xuan Huang, Ryan Zheng | Written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy | Directed by Yimou Zhang


Magnificent, breath-taking spectacle. A glorious, gorgeous testament to mankind’s creativity. Looks really good in 3D. All of this and more can be used to describe The Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of filmmaker Zhang Yimou, however, is another thing entirely.

Following the intense furore surrounding the creation and marketing of The Great Wall, the film itself is here for all to see and judge. Erasure? White saviour trope: the movie? The Great Wall of China with a coat of whitewashing? As it turns out, not quite, but that’s not to say the movie is without its problems.

The great face of The Great Wall’s controversies is Matt Damon, cast as brooding mercenary William Garin. He may be the film’s lead, but he is far from its singular focus. In addition to pal Tovar (a scene-stealing Pedro Pascal), the Wall itself is, ahem, manned by a literal army of Chinese soldiers and led by Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian). More than the set-dressing many had feared, Commander Mae and her soldiers get their share of focus, although Hollywood A-lister Damon is undeniably guilty of hogging their limelight.

The reason for the Wall and its strong military presence, it’s revealed, is to keep at bay the hordes of slathering CGI beasts on the other side, preventing them from crossing over into Beijing and destroying the Middle Kingdom. The soldiers do an admirable job of keeping these monsters down, but Garin and Tovar may have happened across a way of stopping them once and for all; CGI dinosaur kryptonite.

The competency of Commander Mae and her army prevents the story from being a complete white saviour narrative, but it more than straddles the line on occasion – with Matt Damon playing a man who kills monsters better and more effectively than the people whose literal singular purpose in life is to kill monsters. The others are thrown the odd bone here and there, but there wouldn’t be a China today if it wasn’t for Matt Damon. But it’s okay, because the Chinese soldiers have something that our Western heroes lack and that Damon can only learn from them – integrity. This condescending message is ham-fistedly pummelled at us through the actions and various betrayals of Pascal and Willem Defoe, as Matt Damon learns the value of comradery and loyalty.

At least Pascal and Defoe are having fun, unlike the mumbling, bored Damon and the wooden Tian. The monsters themselves are barely more colourful – a mass of brown and grey CGI sludge tied up in computer game level creature design. The old cliché proves true, and the more you see of them, the less scary they are. The Great Wall’s two most effective battle sequences barely feature the monsters at all – first, Mae’s soldiers bungee jumping from the Wall at them, and secondly Matt Damon (plus some Pedro Pascal) fighting them in fog and smoke of war. The creatures could have been the film’s saving grace, but they’re just another thing it fails at.

There are occasional glimmers of a good movie between the rote CGI action and predictable story; the comic relief of Pascal and Defoe, paper lanterns on the Wall, and the score. When it’s not drowned in muggy browns and greys, the Wall gets to look appropriately majestic, and the 3D works pretty well (there are a lot of arrows). But the rest of it is all dull disappointment. For all its scope and ambition, The Great Wall is not so much #problematic as it is packed with problems. You know, of the filmmaking variety. Stick with the bricks-and-mortar real thing. Less monsters, more personality.

The Great Wall is available on DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and 4K Ultra HD now.


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