Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Great Wall

Year: 2016
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Lu Han

Plot: A thief from the west travelling to the east in search of gunpowder gets involved in a battle between the guardians of the Great Wall and an ancient evil.

Review: I can't believe the amount of flak this film has been getting. It's strange. When films like Assassin's Creed take themselves too seriously, people hate them. Then when The Great Wall tries to liven things up with fantastical creatures and colorful costumes, people hate that too. There's just no pleasing everyone.

Anyway, acclaimed director Zhang Yimou collaborates with Hollywood to bring to life a fantasy adventure involving the famous Great Wall of China. We are first introduced to a couple of thieves, William and Tovar, who barely survive a strange creature attack on their journey towards the east looking for gunpowder. They end up getting captured by the Nameless Order, an army that watches and secures the Great Wall. Soon after, a large horde of those creatures, named Taotie, attack the wall, and William decides to forgo his original plan and help the Order, much to Tovar's chagrin.

As far as visuals are concerned, Zhang scores plenty of marks. Sure, some of the CGI looks weak, but overall the film looks really good. Just like Hero, Zhang puts his obsession for colors to use here by giving the Order different colored armors based on their skill set. I am aware that some critics have a problem with that, but I thought it was cool.

The action sequences are well done overall, with the opening battle sequence being the most impressive. There's also a cool sequence in the middle of the film when William and Tovar battle the Taotie in thick fog using noise as their guide.

Matt Damon, probably in his first ever role requiring him to use ancient weapons, does well as William, with Game Of Thrones' Pedro Pascal getting the funny sidekick role of Tovar, which he pulls off well too. Jing Tian (Special I.D.), appearing in next year's Kong: Skull Island, impresses as Lin, one of the few members of the order who admires William, while Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau makes good with his role as Strategist Wang, though his English sounds too phonetic at times.

It's unfortunate though that Willem Dafoe is rather wasted here as Ballard, a westerner looking to steal gunpowder and run first chance he gets. Also wasted are the rest of the commanders of the Order who don't get enough screen time, including star Eddie Peng. I'm also not fond of having the Emperor being a cowardly young boy, and it would have been nice if William had interacted with more of the Chinese cast aside from Lau, Jing and Lu Han (as a guard he rescued). And why do the Order wear their armor at all times, even during meals?

But you know what? Despite everything, and the film borrowing heavily from Aliens and Starship Troopers, I had a blast with The Great Wall. It certainly beats Jackie Chan's poor attempts to merge east and west while championing China in the last few years. This certainly isn't a Zhang Yimou artistic vehicle, but it's a lot of fun from start to finish, and a perfect way to close out the year. (7.5/10)  

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