I nearly didn’t go to watch this film. Can you believe it? I almost didn’t go to watch this film. But I am absolutely delighted that I did. It wasn’t easy but the film really paid me off enough for the effort that I put in to watch this one. The Great Wall is one of the most iconic structures ever built by man and as is the case with most iconic structures, there are stories and legends about its history. One of the legends, on which this film is based, tells us that the wall was built as a final stand against a marauding horde of monsters that the Chinese refer to as “Tao Tei”. It is believed to have withstood the onslaught even though the men and women had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of the ground that they saved from the beasts.
William (Matt Damon) and his compatriot Pero (Pedro Pascal) have traveled far from Europe in search of what they refer to as “The Black Powder”. The Black Powder is, in fact, Gunpowder. Their search lands them up on the doorsteps of China where they unwillingly become part of the war between the “Tao Tei” and the Chinese. At first, William is on the lookout for a chance to escape using the ongoing war as a veil but as he learns more about his hosts and watches them in action, he develops a sense of care and righteous action for them which forces him to stay on and fight by their side. what happens next forms the crux of the narrative.
Zhang Yimou is one of those directors who is known to create plush and absorbing visuals using a wide color palate and imaginative use of camera angles. If you have seen his films Hero, House of flying Daggers and Curse Of The Golden Flower, you will know exactly what I am talking about. His visual flair is on display here. The Chinese army’s different divisions have different dress codes complete with separate color coding. They just look so very good that you will drool over the scenes where they are merely preparing for the onslaught. The vistas are captured with vitality. The sequences featuring the vistas employs wide bird-sight-view shots that not only capture the essence of the vistas but also give us a good idea about the minuscule existence of man in the face of nature’s gigantic size.
The well lit indoors are ravishingly beautiful to look at. even the dungeons breathe life. the Great Wall being a creature violence film, it needed the monsters to be spot on. The creature design of the “Tao Tei” is wonderful. Even though we learn little about them, but they are fearsome to look at and will give you the hibbijibbies. the film’s action is relentless and yet it doesn’t induce a headache. the battle scenes may be prolonged and many but they are never repetitive. Yimou is able to dish out surprises every now and then and the amount of physicality he is able to infuse in the action really makes it thrilling to watch. The 3D adds depth to the already appealing action sequences. every sequence that has an overhead shot really feels scarier, thanks to the 3D. It’s well used here.
As is customary with this genre of films, the Great Wall is very light on the story and character development department. We learn little about William and his character doesn’t have much of an arch. By the time the film ends, you are forced to ask yourself, what made him stay back, fight and risk his life for the people he barely knew. The screenplay is not able to justify his actions. Matt Damon is one of my favorites but here, he literally sleep-walks through the character. I do not blame his much fo rit as the character didn’t have much to offer apart from a few moments of deadpan humor. on the contrary, Tian Jing is vibrant as the Chinese protagonist. Pedro Pascal brings occasional giggles. Willem Dafoe is wasted in a nothing role.
Having said that, I still feel that this film has enough going in its favor in terms of action, visuals, and speed to merit a view or two. The visuals are just so appealing and the action so well done that you will hardly notice the flaws that I mentioned above. The Great wall is the perfect getaway if you are looking for one. It is cheesy, it is silly but it has enough to entertain you throughout its run-time.
Rating : 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)