Director Zhang Yimou’s “The Great Wall” is an epic spectacle of warfare, action sequences and fantasy, grandly mounted with excellent cinematography and equally brilliant visual effects. But unfortunately, with a bland, formulaic story with no major inciting moments, the film is reduced to a staid kitsch.
It is a hero’s journey. It is the story of a man with nefarious intentions, who enters a gated community pretending to be a good man and then how he has a change of heart, forms the crux of the tale.
With no reference of it in the Chinese mythology, the script written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy, the story is pure fiction crafted by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herkowitz. The plot is straightforward with non-existent twists. The dialogues in between the frantic war too suffer from a familiarity tone.
The narrative begins like a cheaply made Western, with a group of mercenaries traveling the desert of ancient China in search of the black powder. The group is attacked by bandits and the few upon escaping the bandits, take refuge in a cave, only to be attacked by a monster with green blood, known as Taotei.
Only William and Tovar survive the monsters attack, after slashing off its arm. They decide to carry the monster’s arm along with them on their journey. The stumble upon the Great Wall and are intercepted by the Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called the Nameless Order, led by General Shao and Strategist Wang. And soon they witness a massive attack by a monstrous army of predators. Through this encounter they come to learn that the great wall and its advanced reinforcements are the only thing standing between the Taotei and the rest of their world.
During the encounter William and Tovar display their combat skill and thus the military leaders of the walled forces decide to keep them as captive guests to help them protect the wall and also to preserve its secrets.
Soon, the duo stumble upon the black powder and with their eyes set on it they decide to wait for the opportune moment to snatch what they can and flee. But during the course of their stay in the walled barracks, William has a change of heart.
Matt Damon though charismatic looks ill at ease as he essays William Garin. His chemistry with his co-stars too is non-existent.
Pedro Pascal as Tovar and Willem Dafoe as Sir Ballard are passable. The Asian actors with their acrobatic skills are a treat to watch. Making a mark among them are Tiang Jing as Commander Lin Mei, Andy Lau as Strategist Wang and Zhang Hanyu as Commander Shao.
Visually with bold colour schemes, the film is artistically mounted. Each frame seems intricately crafted and the 3D effects seem flawless, but the ferocious monsters appear feather-weight and cardboard-thin. The computer generated images mesh seamlessly into the live action sequences captured by cinematographers Stuart Dryburgh and Zhao Xiaodin’s shots and the visual experience is elevated by Ramin Djawadi’s inspiring music.
Overall, the film is an affectless, effect laden extravaganza.