The Great Wall is stunning in its mediocrity. For all the online controversy that it inspired involving whitewashing and Chinese-American cinema, it’s incredible how little it makes an impact — either good or bad — in terms of depth or emotionally investment. It’s not so much dull as it’s actively, defiantly unable to conjure up anything worthwhile to discuss. That I’m forcing myself to write anything at all is a testament to my sheer internal will power. And no, that wasn’t meant to be a pun regarding my name. Let’s try to move on.
I’m trying to remember the broad strokes of the plot, but I’m mostly drawing a blank. There was Matt Damon, most definitely. That’s for sure. He had this weird Irish accent that, initially, I thought might’ve been Spanish or Portuguese, but I was wrong. I’m worse at placing accents than Damon is making them. I guess — in an odd sorta way — we have that in common. Also, in case you’re were wondering, he’s not supposed to be Chinese, which is a relief. He does suffer from white man savior complex, but that was expected.
Alright, what else? Oh yeah, Pedro Pascal, who played his companion, Tovar, joins him along the ride. They have a weird love/hate bromance/homoerotic relationship that was interesting mainly in the sense that you couldn’t figure out what exactly it was. Were they in love with each other? Did they love each other in a brotherly sorta way? Did they actually hate each other, and they’ve just grown accustomed to their duo dynamic? It’s unclear, and I honestly don’t really care enough (or at all) to make any firmer judgments.
Anyway, most people know Pascal from Narcos, which I haven’t watched yet. Is it good? It seems kinda mediocre, and yet it’s supposed to be one of Netflix’s most popular original shows. Oops, I’m getting off-track. I imagine I’ll do that again very soon. Sorry about that.
Tian Jing plays Commander Lin Mae, a badass warrior that’s unfortunately tied to a pointless, unsatisfying romance subplot with Damon. Why? Because movie. I’ve had more chemistry with my head against a wall than these two actors ever did in each other’s company. I suppose I could make an easy joke about “banging,” but I won’t. Too easy.
This is honestly really hard. There’s Willem Dafoe. There are some cool period costumes. There are some lovely production designs and neat machinery and weapons, but to what good do they serve in a story as meandering, unfulfilling and unmemorable as this one? The Great Wall isn’t as bad as it’s enthusiastically unremarkable. It leaves no imprint. It doesn’t want to challenge you, surprise you, haunt you, or, ultimately, engage you. It’s emotionally blockaded storytelling, told without any clear signs of energy or motivation. Everyone does what’s expected of them (minus Damon’s absurd accent), and then they wrap and move on with their lives. One’s viewing experience is essentially the same thing.
Director Yimou Zhang crafted some of the most beautiful films of the previous decade. The filmmaker behind House of Flying Daggers, Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower is seen in brief spurts in The Great Wall, but that influence and attention to detail are sorely missed. Only rarely does the visionary filmmaker behind those stunners show his crafty eye, namely in one gorgeous — if tremendously brief — memorial sequence involving several golden lanterns. But these eloquent little moments of cinematic bliss are all too infrequent.
There’s a lot to criticize here, from the crummy CG to the by-the-numbers, plainly-written screenplay, but The Great Wall robs your inspiration or innovation. It’s a pure soul-drainer. It leaves you numb due to intense boredom, aggressive dullness and infuriating hollowness, refusing to elicit anything even remotely near compelling, original or thought-provoking. It’s a barren vessel, fueled by financial gain and underdeveloped reasoning. It’s a hokey hodgepodge of underwhelming pursuits, draining attention spans and crappiness.
I’m tired. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Futility is something that’s always on my mind. It haunts me and it absorbs my general well-being. Recent events cause me to pause and reflect deeper and more often than ever before. Even the most aimless, unambitious productions still tend to make me think about the bigger picture, the great picture, the broader perspectives. But The Great Wall gave me nothing. It’s desolate when it comes to creativity and catalyst, and it offers me next-to-nothing to say in the end. Such mediocrity isn’t as shocking as it’s telling. In a time more dumbfounding, aggravating and inspiring than ever, it’s incredible finding something this insistently disinteresting.
The Great Wall is a prime example of fury over nothing, certainly, but it’s also a stunning example of when pure tedium can enrapture your inner incentive and become contagiously nullifying. There’s more to say about what it is not than what it actually is. As such, when it comes to imagination, inspiration, cleverness and enthusiasm, The Great Wall hits a wall.