By Grant Dillard, Contributing writer
The Great Wall of China is a marvelous sight to behold and has had many stories told about it. Some are said to be true, others are known as legends. The plot of “The Great Wall” is told as one of them. It even says in the opening credits, “This is one of those legends.” As legends, as well as fantasy films go, “The Great Wall” is a decently presented, yet flawed film that could have been a much greater tale, but still serviceable as is.
Taking place during the Northern Song Dynasty, the film focuses on a warrior named William (Matt Damon) who searches for gunpowder alongside his friend, Tovar (Pedro Pascal). Looking for shelter, they come across the Great Wall and are imprisoned by the Chinese army led by Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing). Shortly after, the Great Wall is attacked by an armada of monstrous creatures that have constantly been a threat to the Chinese army for many years. After William and Tovar help the army fend off the monsters, they earn the trust and respect of the commander and her soldiers, who want him to help put an end to the attacks. At first, William and Tovar just want to obtain the army’s gunpowder and get away. But over time, William starts to realize that there’s more to life than fortune and riches and hopes to help Commander Lin Mae defeat the creatures once and for all.
The presentation of the film is quite extraordinary and helps it overcome some of its deeper flaws. “The Great Wall” is expansive in scope and its world feels gigantic and grand. Thanks to its ancient Chinese setting, the world shown is very stylish and beautiful to look at.
It’s action sequences are fast-paced and exciting to watch. They’re filmed very well, and it’s easy for viewers to see what’s happening. The first attack on the wall by the monsters is the best action scene in the movie, and it’s about as good as the battle of Helm’s Deep in “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”
While the main cast isn’t great, there are standouts, with William being a very good protagonist. The character arc of someone who is down on his luck and eventually becomes a hero has been done in many films before, but it’s always a good way to develop a protagonist for a film like this. It’s a good filmmaking tactic that helps the audience get more invested in the story. Matt Damon’s performance isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it’s convincing enough and it works.
Another standout is actress Tian Jing as Commander Lin Mae. She’s very likable, and also presents a tough-girl type attitude that makes her very intriguing.
Unfortunately, “The Great Wall” has issues that really bring it down and prevent it from being amazing. The first act does start off a little rough, beginning during an action scene involving William and Pedro before the audience can get invested in them. Also, it would’ve been better if more of the characters were memorable, and not just William and Lin Mae. But what really hinders the film from brilliance is its boring second half. Not only does the film slow down to a crawl, but it also throws in the ‘misunderstanding’ plot point that belongs mainly in romantic comedies, and not a big-budget action film. Thankfully, the third act picks back up immediately.
Despite a dreadful second act, “The Great Wall” is still worth seeing for some entertaining action sequences, a few likable characters and a vast and expansive world. “The Great Wall” may be decent and entertaining at times, but unfortunately, it’s far from great.