'The Great Wall' is a failure on many fronts and doesn't warrant you spending your hard earned money to see it at the theater.
Production Design

‘The Great Wall’ Review: Moments Of Visual Splendor Not Enough To Overcome Blase Narrative

In theaters now, ‘The Great Wall’ is at times visually splendid but is entangled with a blase narrative and a confusing performance from Matt Damon. 


The story centers around two traders, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pablo Pascal) who, when we first meet them, are evading capture and happen upon The Great Wall. They decide to take their chances with the soldiers on the wall (the members of the Nameless Order) rather than fight the mercenaries hot on their trail. They are taken prisoner by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang) and Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) just as word spread of an impending attack from the “Tao Tei.”

What are the “Tao Tei”? They are a cross between a Gremlin on steroids, a lizard, and just a dash of horrid CGI. These creatures are far more intelligent than the commanders of the Nameless Order give them credit for, and they begin to systematically pick apart their army during a siege at the wall. It becomes apparent rather quickly that these soldiers are going to need help conquering this foe and it just so happens that William and Tovar are handy with a variety of weapons.

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What I liked

At times the shots of the “wall” were quite splendid and gave a real sense of just the enormity of the landmark. The shots of the crane and death battalions scaling down the side and attacking the “Tao Tei” had a Cirque du Solei quality to it. The film certainly had its moments where the visual composition of a shot is terrific. But these moments were far from consistent. Director Yimou Zhang is the same person who brought us House of The Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, but his visual storytelling here is much more inconsistent.

What I Didn’t Like

Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay were void of any entertainment value. The narrative jettisons the audience directly into the complicated lives of William and Tovar and demands that you care about them but doesn’t give you a reason why. William and Tovar were incredibly one-dimensional. Anytime a semblance of character development was about to occur, it was interrupted by some inane dialogue with the commander or threat of yet another attack from the “Tao Tei.”

Matt Damon attempts to put on performance rather than sticking to his typical shtick of “Hey… I’m a southie from Boston” or ” Hey .. I’m a spy with a past.” Unfortunately, someone convinced him that his Irish accent was good enough to portray this character. It may have been better to just toss away any tricky accent; instead, he went with this accent, so profoundly distracting it was more entertaining at times to watch him fight through this than any impending creature attacks.

Furthermore, I’m not sure why Damon even attempts to provide depth to a narrative that apparently didn’t need any. This movie as it was written is just your standard hero standing with the underdogs to conquer an evil entity. Damon has been in this type of film before. Here we stand shaking our heads in disbelief as he mangles one word after another attempting to convince the world he’s from Dublin.

Final Thoughts

The Great Wall is a ridiculous attempt to combine two genres of film without a sound narrative and strong performances to help. This movie cost $150 million to make, and it would be a struggle to point out where that money was spent. It certainly wasn’t on the special effects. No way that it was on the production design. This film’s only hope is that it continues to dominate in the foreign box-office because there’s little to suggest that it will flourish here.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.
'The Great Wall' is a failure on many fronts and doesn't warrant you spending your hard earned money to see it at the theater.'The Great Wall' Review: Moments Of Visual Splendor Not Enough To Overcome Blase Narrative