“The Great Wall” was hit by accusations of whitewashing for casting Matt Damon in a movie set in ancient China. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures and China Film Group)
In the opening scene of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings,” there is one shot where all of the soldiers are lined up and start a battle by swinging their weapons in a wave motion. “The Great Wall” feels like it was made to just be able to make a bunch of visually interesting battle shots, like the one from “Fellowship,” and fill a two-hour movie with them.
While traveling through Asia, two European mercenaries (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal) come across the Great Wall of China while searching for black powder. Soon, they end up fighting alongside the Chinese army in defense of the wall from monsters that attack every 60 years.
The movie is indeed interesting on a visual level. There is a lot of time dedicated to the aesthetics of the sets and the wardrobe for the cast. All of the suits of armor that the Chinese army wears are vibrant and eye-catching colors. All of the sets, particularly the Emperor’s palace, pay great attention to detail. There are also a number of nice-looking scenes throughout the movie.
While the visuals are interesting, “The Great Wall” is so focused on the visuals that the scenes that are made in order to have an impressive display of imagery are illogical to the story. For example, a memorial service is being held at one point and all of the soldiers are on the wall releasing paper lanterns into the night sky. The shot of all of the lanterns makes for a good visual, but it does not make sense that everyone would be partaking in a memorial service when the creatures could come by and attack at any moment, thus leaving them vulnerable and unable to fight back.
Even without a focus on the visuals, the movie is sloppy in general. Willem Dafoe is cast in the movie as a prominent character, but his character is unneeded and is just used for a pointless subplot that holds no importance and only mildly impacts the main story. Damon and one of the Chinese commanders (Tian Jing) are given scenes where it seems like a romantic subplot is trying to be built, but it ultimately rises to nothing and feels like there were scenes cut out of it.
The creatures have a queen who controls them and is guarded by several armored versions of the creatures. While they do this to protect the queen, she is inexplicably brought into close range of all of the battles between the creatures and the Chinese army, basically just to make it easier for the main characters to do something about her when the plot calls for it.
“The Great Wall” is sloppy. It just wants to make pretty visuals, so a sloppy screenplay was written so that that goal could be accomplished.
Final Grade: D