When the first trailer for this blockbuster appeared last year, alarm bells of another Western whitewash began to ring. Instead, the skillful hand of director Zhang Yimou places the heroine, Commander Lin (Jing Tian) at the fore of the narrative. Also serving as an example followed by two mysterious white warriors. Yet, that isn’t enough to cover up the shallowness of a film that beyond its well-adorned dressing feels pretty soulless.
The beginning states that this is a mythical legend associated with the Great Wall of China. The Tao Tei story reaches back thousands of years, shown here as monsters placing ‘The Nameless Order’ under siege. Their aim is nothing more than to eat as many armored soldiers as possible. A job they are pretty adept at if you crunch the numbers. William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are searching for a mysterious ‘black powder’ hoping for the riches it will bring. The TNO take them prisoner and eventually join forces to battle against the carnivorous beasts.
The lavish production and costume design stand out, set against a mundane story packed with forgettable CGI monsters. There are no memorable characters to speak of as the pacing dips heavily in-between the staged battles. Instead, there is a constant melee of spears, swords, and arrows flying across the screen in every conceivable direction. This is a film you have seen many times before, placing The Great Wall near the bottom end of that list. Instead, in years to come many will remember it for being one of the first major American and Chinese collaborations. The industry dynamics continue to shift east and Hollywood are more than eager to secure their part in that.
By Steven S