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Will "The Great Wall" stand the test of time?

Posted February 17

Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Lu Han, and Kenny Lin in The Great Wall (2016) (Deseret Photo)

THE MOVIE THEATER — Sometimes by accepting that something is going to be horrible before you even experience it, it allows your mind to free itself of hope, thus allowing you to relax and enjoy the horrible thing.

I knew from the first preview of “The Great Wall” that this would be a difficult movie for me to enjoy. I guess seeing Matt Damon cast as an action lead in a big budget movie about the Great Wall of China that no one asked for threw me off. It seemed like this giant movie came out nowhere, fully formed with no warning and no explanation.

To give you the setup, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play two European soldiers of fortune looking to cash in on a destructive substance called “black powder” that the Chinese are rumored to possess. After the two men sneak into the country, they soon find themselves locked in a battle to defend China and greater humanity from a monstrous scourge that threatens the world.

From this point, it becomes a by-the-numbers action plot with the only believable element being a 5,500-mile long wall that took 1,700 years to build. If you are trying to decide if this movie is for you, here is a list of things that did and did not work:

Did not work

Matt Damon is not the hero we asked for

Casting Damon for this role was a strange gamble that did not pay off. Damon is a smart, and at times, great actor with an unquestionable ability to carry an action film, but this was clearly not the case for “The Great Wall.” I don’t know if it was his utterly un-placeable and inconsistent accent or the fact that his character had no personality. Ultimately, Damon’s performance was hard to watch.

Wrong market

For context, this is the first big budget ($130+ million) movie financed 100 percent by the Chinese for an American market. It was directed by Yimaou Zhang and written by American writers Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro.

The idea behind this film I believe was to create an “American” style movie that could ultimately appeal to a much bigger audience back home in China after its U.S. release. I personally have nothing against this approach, other than it completely missed the mark if the idea was to provide a wide appeal to a U.S. audience.

Flat writing

It seemed as if the script was written to please two different audiences at once. There wasn’t enough to connect me to the characters through dialogue or performance so I never felt completely invested in their story.

Did work:

Awesome creatures

Creature development and portrayal was an area of this film where I was extremely impressed. I would argue that this is some of the best creature work I’ve seen in movies in a long time, aside from “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

The thought and design that went into the look of and behavior of these monsters was impressive. They were more than just random animals with scary features— they were very well-thought-out and made sense. The rules the hive followed and the distinct classes of the creatures left me wanting to see more of the monsters called “Taoties”, and get to know more about their bigger story.

Decent humor

For as much as the characters lacked in personality and depth, the script did manage to get some good jokes in once and while, keeping the audience laughing somewhat consistently throughout the film. This is a small consolation for everything else the film lacked, but at least it wasn’t all bad.

Conclusion

In reality, the “did not work” list was longer than the “did work” list, but obviously I couldn’t lay it all out here. With as much as this film lacked, there were some pleasant moments and certainly a lot of action. I would say this film might fall into the category of a $5 guys or girls movie night if you haven’t or are unwilling to see some of the better movies running right now.

Content guide

As far as objectionable content for young teenagers, there was very little. There was no objectionable language or sexual content, and very little blood or gore to speak of. The PG-13 rating came from a lot of fighting and intense action scenes.

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