BWW Review: The Great White Hope Can't Save THE GREAT WALL
So, I'm walking through my local multiplex last year and, imagine my surprise, when I come across a poster for THE GREAT WALL, Matt Damon's giant white face taking up about 80 percent of the surface area and dwarfing China (and I'm assuming Chinese people, not that I could see them they were so small) at the bottom corner.
How on the nose. I can only assume someone in marketing asked, "How can we make China white again?"
The conversations surrounding DOCTOR STRANGE and GHOST IN THE SHELL had already begun. Matt Damon was only a year out from his regrettable Project Greenlight comments, and he was not far from calling the accusations of GREAT WALL whitewashing "a fucking bummer."
Now, I rehash all this in the hopes that it provides some context, and maybe even an explanation, for THE GREAT WALL. The film is surprisingly uninspired, lacking in both energy and excitement, and I hope that a desperate hack job in post, to remove the most overt of orientalism, is the cause. Otherwise, THE GREAT WALL was always destined to be a mediocre film, far beneath the level of what a Zhang Yimou film should be.
By the way, names attached to the writing of this film are Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy (script) and Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (story). Would it surprise you to know three of these names are attached to other great whitewashing works of our time - PRINCE OF PERSIA and THE LAST SAMURAI? I know, I know -- the writers didn't do the casting. But it's still kind of funny.
Anyway, back to the movie.
The creature feature centers around William (played by Matt Damon with, what sounds like, a Canadian accent). He's traveling with Tovar (Pedro Pascal) and a Redshirt on a quest to China to find the fabled "black powder," an awesome weapon they want to take back west. On the way, as they avoid desert marauders, they are attacked by a mysterious creature. William kills it, takes its arm, picks up a very important rock and the men continue on their way -- directly into a trap.
William and Tovar are captured by The Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang), a elite force stationed at the Great Wall and tasked with protecting the Chinese capital Bianliang from the Tao Tei (the previously introduced monsters). William and Tovar meet Ballard, another Nameless Order prisoner looking to escape with black powder, but before they can, William connects with Commander Lin (Jing Tian), leader of the all-female Crane Corps, and joins the fight.
There are the obvious problems -- it's undeniable that Damon is playing a (fairly lackluster) white savior, Lin has her moments as an overly emotional woman, and I heard the word "bitch" (maybe the film's only curse word?) one too many times. I don't want to dismiss them too quickly, but they're unsurprising.
What is surprising is that Zhang Yimou has created a film that's merely a shadow of the epic it could be. Occasionally, he composes awesome, sweeping shots, and at moments those shots are populated with vibrant costumes and dynamic movement. But those moments are few and far between. The most disappointing aspect of this film is that anyone could have directed it. The hand of the man who gave us RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991), HERO (2002) and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004) is missing. It's too bad really -- the most talented person on that set, and the only person who could have elevated this travesty to something we'd have to grudgingly admit was majestic in scope and scale, is nowhere to be seen.
THE GREAT WALL, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau and Willem Dafoe, is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence.
Photo courtesy of Legendary.