Movie Review: “The Great Wall” is more like a flimsy fence

"The Great Wall" opened in China on December 15, 2016, and has grossed $224 million worldwide. Photo from Legendary Pictures.

"The Great Wall" opened in China on December 15, 2016, and has grossed $224 million worldwide. Photo from Legendary Pictures.

This movie’s tagline asks audiences to discover the mystery of the Great Wall. The real mystery of “The Great Wall” is Matt Damon’s disappearing and reappearing Irish accent.

Damon, who won his Oscar for screenwriting, knows he’s in a stinker, and he sleepwalks through the entire movie. What bet did this fantastic actor lose that he had to carry this? His facial expression never once changes from stony disinterest. Even his boyish quips — which could have injected some life into this tedious affair — fall flat because it’s clear he simply doesn’t care.

Welcome to ancient China — who knew the horizons looked so digital and fake? Here we meet a band of European mercenaries, led by the curiously-accented Damon, searching for black powder. After the Chinese army captures them and takes them to the sprawling-but-dull Great Wall, our “heroes” discover the Wall’s true purpose: holding back an endless horde of badly-drawn creatures that have eyes on the sides of their heads and freeze if their Queen dies. How convenient.

Damon teams up with generals dressed like rejected Power Rangers to battle the monsters. It takes an entire battalion of Chinese warriors to kill one creature, but Damon can take out ten of them no sweat because he’s the main character.

Thus begins the massive war to save the world that will put you to sleep unless you’re laughing for all the wrong reasons.

Sporting a truly terrible screenplay cobbled together by six writers, “The Great Wall” has no drama, no tension and cardboard cutouts in place of characters. Director Yimou Zhang clearly set out to create a “Lord of the Rings”-style epic, but nothing in this period-piece monster flick works.

I lost count of how many times I sighed out loud or face-palmed, and I could fill this entire review with examples of logical fallacies and poor writing. Here are a few of my favorites:

Damon’s character witnesses a battle with fiery catapults and actual dragons, and that night, he is utterly amazed by a spark from a small pile of black powder. The Chinese army’s scouts spot the incoming creatures amid a thick fog in one scene but are later ambushed in broad daylight. The characters read a 900-year-old scroll for the first time that details how to beat the creatures. The impregnable Great Wall has a secret entrance right where the wounded Damon passes out. A warrior in full armor puts on an apron before mopping the stone floor.

Those are surface-level, nitpicky issues that rubbed me the wrong way. More egregious is the equally-stupid writing that presumes to call itself the plot. The creatures’ one weakness just happens to be the rock Damon picked up before accidently running into the Wall. The Emperor takes away the weakness and is then surprised when the creatures attack and overrun the capital city. Characters make decisions and change motivations on a dime, as if they suddenly remembered to read the script.

Even the battle scenes, the movie’s biggest selling point, don’t work. We aren’t intrigued by the creatures because their backstory is vague and boring and they look like they were designed by a team of kindergarteners, and we definitely don’t care about the Chinese army because 95% of it is CGI. We end up watching two digital blobs smashing against each other like bumper cars, and any semblance of stakes are evaporated.

Now, what about the positives? The score from Ramin Djawadi is very good. There is one beautiful set-piece involving several stained glass windows, and my favorite aspect of the movie are the clever weapon designs, including “screaming arrows” and wrist igniters.

There’s no way around it, “The Great Wall” isn’t great in the slightest. My recommendation? Go see “The LEGO Batman Movie” again.

 

“The Great Wall” opens in theaters tomorrow and is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence.

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