The Great Wall may be one of the most gloriously stupid films I’ve seen in my history of reviewing films. Not only is the film completely committed to such a dumb idea, but the actors take the material seriously in a sense that gives the film a strange gravitas. However, there is something here that separates the film from pure garbage like Independence Day: Resurgence or the Transformers films: self awareness. The film is completely aware of itself, and doesn’t attempt to take itself too seriously, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are two European mercenaries that are captured by the Chinese Empire on suspicion of thievery. Taken captive on the Great Wall of China, William discovers the wall’s purpose: to protect the Chinese capital from an ancient monstrous threat that threatens to destroy humankind. Teamed with the powerful warrior Lin Mae (Tian Jing), William fights to save the world from a threat that threatens life in general.
Yes, the concept is ludicrous, and the plot makes so little sense that it’s actually mind boggling. However, the film is completely committed to being over the top and ridiculous, and for what it attempts, it achieves with an odd sense of self aware charisma. The action sequences are completely insane and make no logical sense, but they’re extremely well choreographed and visually stimulating. The film also clearly has a tremendous respect for Chinese culture as seen in Zhang Yimou’s direction; ironically, it’s the presence of a foreign character in Damon’s William that exposes the beauty of the Chinese culture.
Damon is, as always, one of the most reliable and consistent actors in the world, giving a solid performance that elevates the screenplay, and gives a genuine nature to the character’s conflicted sense of culture. However, the film’s standout performer is by far Tian Jing, who’s awesome action heroine makes for a great foil for Damon. The Great Wall isn’t what I would technically qualify as a “good film”, but it’s one of the more enjoyable films I’ve seen recently, and for what it’s worth, one of the most consistent. Grade: B-