Expecting an Oscar contender when it’s just another Hollywood blockbuster.
Changchun, China. North of the wall. There are no Taoties here but I did manage to trek through 15°F temperature weather to watch The Great Wall in 3D at an official Wanda Cinema during the Spring Festival. Walking into the theater you’ll notice an aroma of sweetened popcorn, ticket machines that integrate WeChat, and a couple of Jing Tian posters.
The theater experience was great with attentive, professional, and uniformed staff keeping the place immaculate. After picking up our ¥37 RMB ($5.38 USD) tickets, we skipped the bar and concession stand that sold sweet popcorn, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Red Bull, and Jia Duo Bao. We were presented 3D glasses and found our seats amongst ten other people.
Ads played featuring a wide range of products but most noticeably was an advertisement for IQIYI. The American equivalent for a Netflix ad playing at an AMC during the previews.
Prior to starting I kept in mind that the film already had a reputation for “whitewashing,” devaluing Chinese culture, and poor CGI (even though no one has seen it yet…) I’m certain the critics are revving their engines to tear this movie “a new one” during the US release but they’re all missing the point entirely.
The Great Wall is a blockbuster film no different than Transformers, TMNT, or some superhero movie. The plot can be vague, the characters aren’t fully developed, and there’s a lot of CGI explosions.
Matt Damon and Oberyn Martell travel from the west evading bandits and other baddies in order to find a mystical weapon, black powder. Their journey takes them to China, or rather the Great Wall of China, where they’re taken prisoner and then forced to fight against monsters (taoties). The monster’s origins come from an ancient Chinese folktale but US audiences will assume they came from outer space. A queen commands the colony-minded monsters which have eyes on their shoulders, killer teeth & claws, and don’t really die unless you jab out those shoulder eye things.
Matt Damon and Oberyn meet Willem Dafoe who has a plan to escape with a bunch of black powder as the Chinese armies defend against the monsters but Matt Damon decides to stop being a selfish mercenary and start valuing honor, loyalty, and trust (the themes of this movie). It also seems like he has a thing for the new commander, Lin Mae, but unlike in open and liberal western society, you can’t just sleep with the general of the army for the sake of a romantic plotline.
When they finally capture a monster, they realize magnets stop the transmissions from the drones to the queen. After a series of mindless attacks, the monsters go under the wall and threaten to kill the emperor and eat all the people in the capital which would apparently allow the queen to duplicate enough drone monsters to take over the world.
Oberyn is locked up after his getaway plan failed, Dafoe dies, and Matt Damon and Lin Mae ride giant sky lanterns to stop the monsters. All the wonderful side characters die in really sad ways and Matt and Lin stop the monsters just in time. I won’t tell you how because it’s actually fun to watch. I think Matt Damon gets some black powder in the end, but I stopped caring as I focused more on the whole monsters going to kill everyone stuff. He and Oberyn leave to travel back to the western being protected by official guards.
NO MORE SPOILERS!
Although it sounds like a terrible and crazy movie, it’s a lot of fun to watch. The monsters are pretty westernized looking (i.e. dumb and weird), but they have that World War Z zombie feel to them as they stack up on each other at the Great Wall which is a really cool visual to watch in 3D. The weapons were innovative and the different fighting styles were visually investing.
Being the most expensive film shot in China and most expensive co-production between the US and China, the visual budget worked out pretty well and the 3D effects were visually striking. The scenes inside of the Great Wall looked pretty cool, especially when they initiated some new weapon against the monsters.
Although the film doesn’t go far enough to portray more Chinese culture, it’s hard to ask that about a blockbuster film with monsters. The intention of this film, despite being in China with Chinese culture, isn’t to educate people about Chinese history but to show off ugly monsters getting killed in pretty cool ways in ancient China.
The plot and characters could use more common sense development but it’s easy to overlook the problems it has if only because it’s a rather neat film. It’s hard to say there are many like it, because they aren’t, so being overly picky only detracts your own personal experience of watching the film.
Go see The Great Wall if you’re looking for a visually appealing alternative historical blockbuster, don’t if you want to see something commenting about modern day politics or intricate plotlines and characters.