Marketing is a huge part of the film industry. Edge of Tomorrow was a fantastic movie that was marketed very poorly and ended up in an identity crisis when it eventually released on Blu-ray. The Great Wall is another film that will likely be plagued with domestic box office issues due almost entirely to the lackluster marketing of the movie.
The Great Wall is an action-packed film with heavy Chinese influence that happens to star Matt Damon. Unfortunately, the marketing for the film makes it look more like a cheesy, B-tier Chinese movie that spent most of its budget on landing Matt Damon in a starring role. Very few people watched The Great Wall trailers and thought the movie looked like anything other than cable TV fodder, but that thought couldn’t be further from the truth.
While The Great Wall isn’t the best movie of the year, it was a pleasant surprise and highly entertaining. Matt Damon takes on the role of William Garin, a foreigner that has found himself in China looking for the mysterious black powder that can kill dozens of men at once. He’s joined by his rogue-like companion, Pero Tovar, played by Game of Thrones alumni, Pedro Pascal. The two are skilled warriors that happen upon the Great Wall of China in their search for the black powder.
The beginning of the film feels like any other action movie. Everyone is speaking English and cracking manly jokes after escaping death yet again. However, as soon as the duo make it to the Great Wall, they find out the mystery of the Chinese marvel. The Great Wall was built in part to keep out what essentially amounts to alien monsters. While that may sound strange on paper, it actually works fairly well in the film.
Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) handled the visual effects for the film, while Weta Workshop took care of the practical effects for the various weapons and other props. If those names sound familiar, they should. ILM has handled the effects for everything from Star Wars to most of the Marvel films. They are one of the top visual effects companies in filmmaking and their expertise shows in The Great Wall. The monsters look fairly convincing and they’re animated extremely well. In addition, all of the weaponry looks realistic thanks to Weta’s work on the Lord of the Rings films and other similar productions.
The first battle between the highly-trained Chinese military force and the invading alien monsters is easily the highlight of the film and a great example of Chinese art coming together with modern visual effects. It’s a unique battle that really helps set the tone of the film and should be your first indication that this isn’t just a cheap made-for-TV movie like the marketing would suggest.
As the film progresses, the action keeps up, but the plot suffers. While the film is a visual spectacle during the battles, it offers a fairly generic action movie plot. Our heroes go from A to B to C like clockwork, offering very little in the way of surprises. Most moviegoers will be able to tell exactly how the film plays out before the end of the first act.
It should also be noted that while all of the non-Chinese actors speak English throughout the film, a majority of the cast is Chinese and speak in their native language with subtitles for English viewers. Only Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) of the Chinese army speak English, while any other dialogue from the Chinese actors is subtitled. While this doesn’t take away from the film at all, it’s no secret that American audiences can be turned off by subtitles.
Aside from the predictable and fantastical plot, The Great Wall is a highly entertaining film that offers a more artistic take on war compared to many other similar movies. It’s not a perfect film, but well worth watching it in theaters where the drums of war will echo through the auditorium as battles rage on before your eyes. It’s unfortunate that many will miss this spectacle due to poor marketing.
The Great Wall:
About The Great Wall
Synopsis: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.
Director: Yimou Zhang
Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Stars: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe
Runtime: 1 Hour, 43 Minutes