The Spectacle of ‘The Great Wall’

'The Great Wall' provides solid spectacle with a thin plot.

Monkeys Fighting Robots


In The Great Wall, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are the last survivors of a group of mercenaries, posing as traders. They have come to China in search of black powder weapons. William and Tovar stumble across the Wall and its guardians as they try to escape bandits and nomads. Taken prisoner, they soon realize that there is a far greater threat in the form of an alien creature called the Tao Tei.

William must choose between throwing his lot in with Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and the Chinese soldiers against the Tao Tei, or escaping with a man named Bollard (William Dafoe), Tovar and a load of black powder weapons that would make them rich in the west.

The Great Wall

What I liked

The movie is visually lush. The Chinese troops are color coded and the masses of troops moving along the wall help give a sense of scale. The movie was filmed in China and takes advantage of its location. The Great Wall itself is full of surprises as the Nameless Order has been fighting or preparing to fight the Tao Tei for centuries.

I liked that The Great Wall was made by a Chinese director with a mostly Chinese cast. While there was some controversy over casting Matt Damon, the movie mostly manages to avoid becoming a White Savior film. Although William is almost preternaturally talented with his bow, it’s clearly Lin who is in charge. Also, while there may be some attraction between Lin and William, there’s no romance subplot shoehorned in.

What I didn’t like

For a movie about action and spectacle, at times the CG could be a little shaky. One spot in particular looked truly bad. But for the most part the alien Tao Tei seem believable and the fight sequences are exciting.

Plenty of ink has already been spilled on Matt Damon’s questionable accent, but I barely noticed it. Not much back story is given on Tovar and William’s relationship, but clearly they’ve been through a lot together.

The plot itself is fairly thin and there aren’t many surprises along the way. It clearly follows a general Action Movie guidebook. There are plenty of plot holes if you go looking for them, but I found the movie enjoyable nonetheless.

Final Thoughts

The Great Wall isn’t going to be some industry-defining film. It’s solidly middle of the road, and, in my opinion, better than I thought it might be. I saw it in 3D, and I didn’t feel like it was a waste of money. The movie is spectacle and not a bad use of a Saturday afternoon.

The Great Wall was released February 17, 2017. Directed by Yimou Zhang, the movie stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Tian Jiang.

Have you seen The Great Wall? What did you think? Leave a comment below!


I'm a lover of all things fantastical, living in Texas. At least there's NASA. I love to write, get a little bit too enthusiastic about Doctor Who and attend the occasional con. I also love film and media so much I got my degree in it!
the-spectacle-of-the-great-wallThe Great Wall is solid summer entertainment in the middle of winter.