Epic alien battles in “The Great Wall” film
Two millennia ago, the country of China worked together to create a wall. It took over 17 centuries and millions of lives, with a corpse every 30 feet, to build a 5500 mile-long wall. Some say that the Great Wall was built for prevention against the conquering of China by several tribes. Others created horrendous myths and legends about the Great Wall. This movie is one of those myths.
In “The Great Wall,” directed by Zhang Yimou, these legends rise from paper scrolls and are brought to life on the silver screen. William Garin (Matt Damon) and side character Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) travel with a mercenary group in China in search for a rare black powder, a useful weapon that causes explosions, rumored to be located within China. When a lizard-like monster attacks the group, Garin and Tovar slice off its hand and manage to kill the beast after it mauls the other mercenaries. Two days later, the Nameless Order, a Chinese military order commission, finds the two men at the foot of the Great Wall with the hand of one of the monsters. The monsters are called Tao Tie, as William and Pero discover, and tens of thousands of them attack every 60 years. However, the Chinese cannot let Garin and Tovar escape with those secrets of the Wall and they keep the two men within their walls. Commander Lin Mae of the Order (Tian Jing) allows William to fight alongside her army after discovering his archery skills, and they need all the help they can get to defeat the seemingly unstoppable force of the Tao Tie.
Although the film may seem like a stereotypical monster Armageddon-type plot, the visual effects, set design and the detail integrated into the movie are astonishing. Hundreds of extras dressed in full blue, red and black body armor flood an extravagant set to give “The Great Wall” a sense of visual depth and complexity. The immensity of the film’s set and detail is incredible. While the film is not at all historically accurate, it still provides intensity in their battles, including the use of the Crane Corps, spear-wielding women who bungee jump in metal ring harnesses. The monsters are not anything we haven’t seen before in monster movies. Although they look terrifying, the design and detail of the monsters seem lacking. Flaming meteors, monster-cutting scythes and out-of-the-ordinary archery skills may seem fake even in the typecasts and elements of a monster movie, but “The Great Wall” is an enjoyable film for action-loving moviegoers.
With a touch of comic relief from Tovar, the majority of the film shows a struggle of the Nameless Order’s fight against the Tao Tie. The armor of warriors and bloody rings of the Crane Corps represent the dead. However, the movie itself does not show too much bloodshed and only hints at the slaughter with quick cutaways. It is reminiscent of old “Godzilla” films or apocalyptic zombie flicks, yet creates its own special touch with the mixture of Chinese culture.
Matt Damon’s acting as the character Garin is not a top ten contender by his performance in his most popular films. His accent skips around from Scottish, to British and to American throughout the film, disrupting the some of the action and the audience’s attention. Other characters seem unnecessary, such as Sir Ballard (William Dafoe), who is used as a simple plot device to introduce black powder and as a means of explaining how Lin Mae is able to speak in fluent English.
The creation of the movie sparked a controversy over whitewashing films, as Matt Damon’s face is plastered on almost every poster. Almost all Chinese secondary characters are developed throughout the story with a standard as sidekicks and seem expendable for the movie’s white savior plot. This standard excludes Lin Mae, who plays a prominent role in guiding Garin through the ways of the Chinese and introducing the theme of trust into his life. The stars and filmmakers of the movie defend the “unity” demonstrated by the East and the West; however, the end product is not balanced at all. Instead, the Chinese are pushed into the background to show the skill of a random foreigner in Eastern lands.
“The Great Wall” is something to be valued for its graphics or design and less for plot and character development. It is a film that should be seen for the battle sequences and the unique presentation. The film leaves a lasting imprint of ten thousand lizard-like Tao Tie clamping their jaws on warriors, threatening to tear apart the world, in which only one thing stands in their way – The Great Wall.
By Jeremey Hsiao, Arts editor
Photo courtesy of thegreatwallmovie.com