Only two super powers could make something this gloriously stupid: “The Great Wall”February 21, 2017
Not since a giant robot used an oil tanker as a baseball bat to club a sea monster into submission in Pacific Rim has a movie embraced its own glorious dumbness with as much aplomb as The Great Wall. This is, after all, a joint venture between two titanic entertainment industries, whose viewership numbers the billions (with a B). And the movie they chose to collaborate on is this…in which the Great Wall of China is the last defense against hoards of rampaging alien dragons. Really, I don’t know why people are so exorcised about an ascendant China—they seem to know what they’re doing as far as movies go. Because if you’re not enjoying alien dragons battling ancient Chinese soldiers on the Great Wall of China, well…I don’t know, are you sure you’re alive?
So, The Great Wall begins around 1200 BCE or so with two European traders (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal) stumbling around China, looking for gunpowder (because, hey, that Second Amendment’s not going to will itself into existence), and things have not gone well. Their party has mostly been picked off by marauders, they’ve lost their horses, and to top it off that night they get attacked by an alien dragon monster. Matt Damon manages to cut its paw off and toss the body off a cliff, but it’s still kind of a pain in the ass.
Well, the next day, Damon and Pascal (No, I don’t remember their names…they’re not exactly critical to the movie) end up stumbling across the Great Wall and getting captured by the Chinese. While prisoners at the fortress that is the wall, they realize that the Chinese forces are preparing for a massive siege. Wanna guess what’s…um…sieging them? Aw yeah! Alien dragon monsters!
Not the types to just sit around and jack off, Damon and throw in and help the Chinese out during the initial skirmish. Admittedly, a lot of this is due to the fact that the first Chinese soldier Damon meets is Commander Lin, who, as played by Jing Tian, is so teeth-clenchingly beautiful pretty much any heterosexual male (and homosexual female) would fight alien dragon monsters just to make some time with her.
But really, you shouldn’t need the promise of sex to want to fight an alien dragon monster.
They also meet another Westerner, an old mercenary (Willem Dafoe), who also came to fabled Cathay in search of the recipe for pew-pew-pew. He’s been a prisoner there for almost 25 years and has been waiting for a couple of like-minded chumps to come along to help his effect his escape.
And so the movie unfolds this way, with Damon torn between the possibility of escape with the secret of gunpowder (and the resulting wealth), and staying behind to help the Chinese with their little dragon problem (and the possibility of a little medieval bam-chika-wah-wah with Commander Lin). I know which one I’d choose.
It should be clear now that The Great Wall is utterly ridiculous. Just the fact that it posits an alternate history for one of the Seven Wonders of the World places it squarely in 10,000 BC territory (though, I’d argue that it’s more plausible than that movie…I mean, I’ve not seen evidence that alien dragon monsters weren’t the reason the Chinese built the wall). The difference is that The Great Wall examines the silliness of the premise and then leans into it with a vengeance. Dragons? Nope, not good enough, they have to be alien dragon monsters from a meteor crater in Mongolia (so, yeah, the wall is sort of keeping out Mongols). Catapults? Those are good, but how about giant scissors’ that pop out of the wall to chop the monsters in half?
Also, the secret to defeating the alien dragon monsters is magnets, because magnets, bitch!
The Great Wall is directed by the legendary Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics), and as a result the action sequences are stunning in both their execution and imagination. Not content with simply immersing the audience in the action also gives us set-pieces like Lin’s Crane Corps bungee-jumping into the masses of monsters, getting in a little stabby-stabby, and then hoisted out to safety. Now, I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing in the Song Dynasty. Internet Smart People, fact-check me on this.
The cast is uniformly engaging if not really working up a sweat in the acting department. Damon affects some kind of a half-assed Irish brogue for portions of the movie and abandons it completely at other times. It’s kind of fun to listen for it.
So, that’s The Great Wall. The Chinese get this as their alternate history, while we’re left with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Yeah, they came out ahead in that contest.