Plotless nonsense that looks like it was made throwing paint colour charts at a screen
In the Hollywood pantheon of terrible Irish accents, Matt Damon has emerged as a new star. So bad is his brogue that this reviewer was stunned to even read that he was supposed to be channelling someone from this island, his accent sounding more like what Kathy Bates is doing as the bearded lady in AHS: Freak Show. Even worse, it’s about the most interesting thing that can be said about The Wall.
Where did it all go wrong, Yimou Zhang? The one-two hits of Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the epic opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and now this wonky pile of nonsense? The Great Wall is less like watching a movie than a 105-minute computer game video on YouTube, just without the anti-Semitic jokes and rape threats in the comments section, which would almost be a relief from this pointless endeavour.
The story revolves around Damon’s William, a mercenary making his way through China with Tovar (Pedro Pascal) and their band of not-so-merry men on the hunt for “black powder.” When a strange (by ‘strange’ read: utterly generic pistachio-coloured monster) creature attacks, William and Tovar escape with their lives, only to find themselves arrested by a secret army of seemingly endless numbers hidden in the 13,000 mile-long they also seemed to miss while riding through the (admittedly gorgeous) countryside.
Held captive they learn from the assembled colour-coded forces (think if the Power Rangers blended with the Lord of the Rings to create a kind of ‘Helm’s Weep’) how every 60 years the Tao Tei, the aforementioned CGI pixels with fangs, attack. Because reasons. Don’t ask questions, just fall in line and bungee jump to your doom, you decadent westerner.
The problem... scratch that, the biggest of the many problems with The Great Wall is how everything is taken so earnest, playing out straighter than the locks of hair that tumble from the Chinese actors’ wigs, ponytails so extreme that Ariana Grande would feel inadequate. Instead of a playful romp with some tongue-in-cheek comedy, the characters are so kung po-faced that the film serves as a poor introduction to what will be decades of Chinese and Hollywood co-productions as the country’s massive audience becomes a shaping force in multiplex output.
The cobbled together screenplay, credited to no fewer than six writers, offers even less depth than the performances, with Matt Damon’s on-screen chemistry with Jing Tian a kind of forced cold fusion, not helped by a number of scenes of back-and-forth Mandarin-to-English translation. Willem Defoe plays a character whose entire purpose in the film is to account for why Jing’s Commander Lin Mae speaks English, though the characters are all so unlikeable that it’s hard not to root for the marauding mass of monsters as the aerial skills force leap at them and fabseil over the wall in their nifty, figure-hugging armour.
A turkey so big you can see it from space.
Verdict: Billed as the most ambitious co-production between the world’s cinematic superpowers, The Great Wall lays a poor foundation for what is yet to come.
The Great Wall (12A.105mins) is released nationwide on February 17th.