a critiQal film review The Great Wall (2017)

Plot: When a mercenary warrior (Damon) is imprisoned within The Great Wall, he discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of our world. As wave after wave of marauding beasts besiege the massive structure, his quest for fortune turns into a journey toward heroism as he joins a huge army of elite warriors to confront this unimaginable and seemingly unstoppable force.

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We had been wanting to see The Great Wall for awhile now. Matt Damon is usually pretty good, and we wanted to see this epic “creature feature” to see if he could hold his own among the special effects. Finally, we got our chance, and settled in to see if this would be a Wall worth scaling.

Matt Damon takes the lead in The Great Wall and does a solid job with his role. He has an odd gruffness to him at first, but that fades as the film continues, and his old, natural voice returns, much to the viewer’s happiness. After he’s gotten cleaned up (although still with his medieval longer hair), he becomes the Matt Damon viewers have come to expect and enjoy on the big screen. Sure, he stands out a bit as he’s very much an American in a strange land (which doesn’t really make any sense), but he’s still worth watching.

Pedro Pascal, on the other hand, melds into the scene with greater success. After doing a solid job playing the comic relief/bane to Damon in The Great Wall so easily (and doing equally well as Whiskey in ), he’s definitely an actor to watch. Viewers will have fun with the banter between him and Damon in this film, and provides most of the much needed laughs as well. His character will also have viewers fondly remembering Inigo Montoya in the now-classic The Princess Bride (1987), which just helps things.

Tian Jing is also impressive as the female lead in The Great Wall. She does a solid job of standing up the men in the film, and while she is one of the only females in the film, it never feels like she is falling behind. She is as strong a character (if not stronger) than most of the male roles, and it’s nice to see a strong female lead in what is typically a male-oriented action film. She’s able to flirt with Damon, without making her seem weak (as most of these films depict females), and it’s a nice change of pace for a male-dominated action flick.

The rest of the cast is pretty solid as well. Willem Dafoe is probably the most miscast, as his odd prisoner role is obviously there just to cash in on the star power of his name. As an actor, he doesn’t really contribute much, and it makes viewers long for the times when he used to be in films because he had something to prove, not just to cash in on his name. Other than that, the cast is solid, and really highlights many of these lesser-known names (at least to American audiences).

As with most films set outside the US, viewers will have a hard time getting the foreign names right, but it really doesn’t matter. While it may be difficult to remember the names, the actors do such a good job with their roles, the viewer will distinguish them from each other by what they do, rather than who they are. It’s nice to see this film isn’t as whitewashed as so many Hollywood films these days, and with the exception of Matt Damon (who does a good job in his role) and Willem Dafoe (who doesn’t), the rest of the cast is more solidly grounded in the setting of the picture, rather than being cast for their star power.

While the plot skimps a little on how Damon or Dafoe ended up on the other side of the world, the rest of The Great Wall is well planned out. A creature feature, it does a solid job of introducing the creatures and the threat they represent. It also helps that the film makes it seem that while these creatures may be fantastical to newcomers like Damon (who is the viewer’s guide to the action) and Pascal, this menace is old hat to the defenders on the Wall. It’s not like it’s something they haven’t dealt with before, and while the creatures are a menace, they aren’t a totally unknown entity. It makes the viewer accept them much more readily, and really helps bring an (albeit false) historical aspect to the film. Is this really why the Great Wall of China was built? The viewer just might accept that it was – at least for the duration of the film.

For a creature feature, The Great Wall is beautifully filmed. Even though lots of the film focuses on specific battles, there are moments that are just simply breath-taking. Whether watching some of the fighters gracefully swan-dive off the Wall (while attached to bungee cords), or just looking over the views of the valley from the Wall, to the vivid color swatches in the troops’ battle dress, there is a lot of beauty in the film – a lot more than one would normally expect from what is basically a monster movie. It’s no wonder the film is available in 4K, as it would have been a shame if they hadn’t taken advantage of that beauty to it’s fullest.

When viewers think of monster movies, they probably conjure up films like Godzilla (1998) or the like. The Great Wall separates itself from the rest of the monster movie crowd by being able to bring out good performances by most of it’s cast, and by being so beautifully shot. Yet, even while it fleshes out it’s characters, it still manages to bring the action and excitement of a monster movie onto the screen, sating the viewer’s desire for the typical monster movie mayhem and violence, even while they enjoy the film more than they expect.

A monster movie that is more developed and stronger than most films of the genre, The Great Wall is sure to garner fans from unexpected corners…and deserves the praise it gets. Check it out today, and see how much fun The Great Wall is for yourself.

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