Zhang Yimou, the celebrated Chinese auteur behind Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, has never made bad looking films. But how about just a bad film? That appears to be the case if you were to read a smattering of international reviews for The Great Wall, the director’s first English language production. Kervyn, Noelle, Craig, and Tracy all went to check out the film earlier in the week to decide for themselves if this was case of a Not-So-Great Wall or not. And since we’re a democratic sort around here, it was decided they would all chip in to the review with their thoughts. Check them out below.

Kervyn

The Great Wall sees Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal as a pair of world weary 10th century mercenaries who go looking for the fabled explosive black powder of China only to get caught up in a monstrous battle. Literally. Ancient scaly beasts have been scratching and snarling at the Great Wall of China in a bid to turn citizens of the Middle Kingdom into snacks. These monsters are luckily the regulated sort and only attack every 60 years, giving the locals time to don ornate Crayola colour coordinated armour and come up with what appears to be the most elaborate looking and equally inefficient way of repelling these beasts (Bombs? Who needs ’em! I would rather go bungee spear-fishing off a wall into a maelstrom of teeth and death). Luckily, they now have Matt Damon and his bow to show them how monster slayin’ is really done! F#$& yeah!

Well, not so much, actually. Yimou has not lost his knack for opulent pageantry one bit and keeps everything looking gorgeous, especially in IMAX. But divorced of the slower, more poetic approach to action of his previous films, in favour of Hollywood styled rah-rah (pardon the pun) hero moments, things tend to lean heavily into the area of silliness. While Pascal appears to be having fun with the role, and Willem Dafoe pops up for a brief bout of loopiness, Damon sleepwalks through most of his material. On the Chinese side of the actor equation, Jing Tian also plays her role too subdued to properly invite audience buy-in but at least the always great Andy Lau makes up for that with a fun showing. The script, which has a couple of face-slappers, leaves the rest of the all-Asian cast as non-entitities. At least they get to speak in their native Mandarin with the assistance of subtitles.

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BUT! As innately silly as it all it is, there’s at least some fun to be had with this creature feature. There’s some genuinely witty banter sprinkled throughout the script, and some of the action beats are convincingly thrilling thanks to a devil-be-damned approach that just tosses all sense of subtlety, logic and occasionally even a respect for the laws of physics out of the window. This is a movie that from the onset declares itself to be nothing more than a bit of a mythical yarn, and I can respect that.

  • Score: 6/10

Noelle

Pretty. Stupid. That’s my two-word take on The Great Wall.

The film is visually striking, with a sumptuous production design that makes 3D IMAX the optimal way to appreciate the spectacle. The film also includes some unquestionably cool moments that just ooze style.

But – and there are some big “buts” coming here – The Great Wall suffers from extremely lazy writing. It feels like a bad blockbuster video game, right down to a final three-stage boss battle. The Great Wall is pretty much Starship Troopers or Gears of War set in Dynastic China. Maybe high concept is your thing. Maybe that’s enough for you when it comes to movie entertainment. If not, you’ll probably find yourself either rolling your eyes at a trope you’ve seen a hundred times before, or chanting “Why? Why? Why?” over some truly nonsensical character decisions.

My biggest gripe though is that The Great Wall suffers from full-blown White Man Saviour syndrome. I was hoping that the movie’s trailer was simply misjudged marketing. But nope. While the Chinese characters stand around as 12th Century Power Rangers (who don’t even do much fighting, to be honest), Matt Damon’s Marty Stu sweeps in, flings about solutions, and accomplishes things singlehandedly that an entire elite Secret Warrior Order can’t. Hell, he even looks like Jesus Christ for a third of the film, and references returning when everyone else thought he was dead. Really, in this day and age, it’s cringe-worthy and builds bad feeling towards the movie.

  • Score: 5/10
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Craig

You will struggle to find a movie that is better looking than Great Wall. From the impeccable production design, bright colour and cinematography, rapturous choreography, scintillating battle scenes and sumptuous special effects, Great Wall certainly looks beautiful. What it offers up in visual spectacle though, it unfortunately loses in character development.

Great Wall serves up a serviceable story of renegade warriors who join up forces with a Chinese army in the midst of the battle for the world against the mysterious creatures called tao tei. It’s predictable and filled with a lot of silly moments that require you to suspend your belief… but it’s equally fun as well. While the gaping plot holes and poorly drawn leads detract from the immersion of the whole experience, it still offers up good entertainment.

Admittedly my expectations for the film were low going into the movie, but it certainly turned out better than expected. It’s far from being a great movie, but as a visual feast, it offers up solid popcorn entertainment.

  • Score: 6/10

Tracy

My experience with The Great Wall was slightly different than our other reviewers. The Cape Town and Durban screenings went off without a hitch, but unfortunately for Joburg we lost the subtitles halfway through. Not sure what happened, but seeing as a great deal of the dialogue isn’t in English, I lost the plot. Literally. I had no idea what was going on. So in light of having to watch the movie without any clue what the majority of the characters were saying, here’s my review sans dialogue, in emoji form:

  • Score:  

Last Updated: February 17, 2017

The Great Wall
Summary
With fantastic, IMAX-worthy effects and opulent production design, The Great Wall is visually reminiscent of Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou's acclaimed earlier films. But while there's some silly fun to had, bland heroes (played by Matt Damon and co), borderline insulting tropes and dumb scripting leaves this big budget creature feature an uneven affair
6.0
Pretty. Stupid.
  • HairyEwok

    I bet you Donald Trump thinks this is a 10/10 movie

    • Captain JJ

      Not enough Orange

    • Mistake Not…

      No, the wrong country paid for the wall.

  • MonsterCheddar

    “My biggest gripe though is that The Great Wall suffers from full-blown White Man Saviour syndrome.”

    O.o

    • *triggering intensifies*

      xD

    • HairyEwok

      I have a snappy comment for this but WSJ would be on my ass calling me a racist. 😛
      Yes i know where to draw the line.

      • MonsterCheddar

        Yeah, it seems cool these day to always have a dig at white men, who can’t get offended because its racist to do so.

        Why not just enjoy the movie for what its worth without always seeing the fucking race/colour aspect and having to point it out to everyone.

        I mean it was written by a Chinese guy FFS.

        • tl;dr

        • HairyEwok

          This movie and Ghost in the shell gets you. Both films use white actors not because of race but because of talent, and because the director wrote the script with certain people in mind.

          • MonsterCheddar

            I mean I didn’t watch Magnificent 7 and go, “Ag, geez. Typical Black man is the hero thing.”

            I just enjoyed the movie.

          • Yeah. Because it isn’t typical. You answered your own question there 😉

        • Tracy Benson

          “White Man Saviour Syndrome” isn’t a dig at white men, please don’t take it personally. It’s a well known movie trope when a story shows “natives” as incompetent / backward and need the heroic Westerner to show them how it’s done. It’s insulting and damn lazy story writing .

          • MonsterCheddar

            Like I said. I don’t care. I don’t like it and I don’t care for the way the point was brought across. I find it offensive because of the “Cringe worthy” way it was brought across “in this day and age”.

          • Tracy Benson

            I’m sorry. Have a cookie ?

          • MonsterCheddar

            Thanks.

            *sob

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            This is a strange response to discussion. You’re offended by the use of a term, then told that you really understanding of said term is incorrect, and your response to that is to just stick your fingers in your ears and ignore?

            Truly odd

          • MonsterCheddar

            I’m not getting into this more than to say that I understand the term, as it was explained to me.

            What I didn’t like was the way it was stated. I might not be as enlightened as you guys, but when something sounds off, and I don’t like it. I will say it.

          • MonsterCheddar

            You can make me out to be dick because of that, but I will stick to my guns, because if this was the other way around, there would’ve been hell to pay.

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            I literally have no idea what you mean. Not liking the way something is stated and misunderstanding the term fundamentally doesn’t really lead credence to you getting upset over your perceived understanding of it.

            You “sticking to your guns” just makes it look like you’re not open to someone correcting you over something you got wrong. But you’ll still be really angry about it? Like I said, odd.

    • Zoe Hawkins

      that’s the name of trope, unfortunately, because it’s so common.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_savior_narrative_in_film

  • Crocodile/10

    Must be pretty mediocredecent

  • Dresden

    Only a crocodile/10?

    Look I know the movie seems to be pretty mediocre by general consensus, but I think you are taking a bit too far, Tracy.

    • Unavengedavo

      That is clearly an alligator, stop being speciest! O_o

      • HairyEwok

        That moment you’re not sure what the reptile identifies itself as anymore. For all we know it could be an alligator that identifies itself as a horse.

  • MonsterCheddar

    “Really, in this day and age, it’s cringe-worthy and builds bad feeling towards the movie.”

    I mean for fuck sakes, come on.

    • What is wrong with that? I’ve seen many movies that are so cringe-worthy I want to throw my TV out my window.

      • MonsterCheddar

        Not what its about….

        • So you haven’t seen movies where the bumbling idiot natives are saved by a white guy?

          • MonsterCheddar

            Rince, I’m not going to get into this with you. I don’t like the reference, and I really don’t care about all the explanations people are trying to get me to swallow.

            I don’t like it because I find it offensive. End of story.

          • In the words of Stephen Fry, so fucking what?

          • MonsterCheddar

            Dude, really…..

          • It’s the response I use when people literally say ‘I do not want to listen to reason, from anyone, I am offended, and will not be un-offended, for any reason, including, reason.’ 😛

          • MonsterCheddar

            No its not. Its just that I don’t like the whole reference. I have my point of view and you have yours.

            I don’t want to get into it with you, because you are a nice guy and you are friends with my friends.

            And I don’t want to be in the position where we get into it, and later can’t have anything nice to say about the other person.

            Think of me what you like and call me out as you like, but that is where I’m coming from and why I don’t want to engage in this.

          • miaau

            Which is why getting free brackets with a flat screen TV is a good deal……..

    • miaau

      I really, really hesitate to ask, cause I sense the anger here, but what upsets you here?

      Edit*, ah sorry, read further now

      • MonsterCheddar

        I really don’t want to elaborate or engage about this anymore. I’m over it.

        • miaau

          all good!

          🙂 have another smile thing,; not as clever as Tracy’s, but I barely know what an emoji is

          🙂

  • Original Heretic

    I still wanna see this. I know it’s a “watch and forget” kind of movie, but it looks like fun. I’ll be going into it not expecting a damn thing, so I know I won’t be disappointed.

    And Tracey, I know how you feel. Years back, watched that De Niro movie, Hide and Seek, in cinema. Halfway through, all the audio changed to Russian. It was WEIRD! The whole audience sat there for a few minutes, stunned, probably wondering the same as us,” Is this supposed to be happening?”

    • Tracy Benson

      That’s totally bizarre! At first I thought it was supposed to be happening, like they were putting you in the place of the white characters who didn’t understand Mandarin. Which was odd because we got subtitles in the beginning but whatever. Next thing there’s an entire scene that only has Mandarin dialogue and everyone was like… um WTF?

      • Original Heretic

        That was pretty much what we were thinking as well when it happened to us. At the point in the movie when it suddenly changed over, it could have made sense as a tool for Dakota Fanning’s character, her suddenly not understanding what everyone was saying to her.

        Still, I am glad that they let the Chinese actors actually speak their native language for most of the film. Unlike 47 Ronin….

        • Tracy Benson

          Yeah, who knew The Great Wall was going to be a foreign language film? Haha! A good deal of the dialogue is in Mandarin, which is good (but not so good without subtitles)

    • HvR

      LOL, sounds like Sterkinekor now is on the same level as ATKV in 90’s when they still showed movies at the camp grounds over holiday season.

      Back then was still film rolls and the dumbasses would mix them up so there you see Bruce Wayne reassuring a bed ridden Alfred few minutes later Alfred is running around the mansion fetching Batman is Bat discount card.

  • Zoe Hawkins

    Emoji review is my favorite.

  • HvR

    WTH another day another Starship Trooper reference.

    Also is “Starship Troopers or Gears of War set in Dynastic China” is that suppose to be a dig at the movie? Starship Troopers in Dynastic China sounds fooking amazeballs.
    https://media.giphy.com/media/2xIoRHuWHglbi/giphy.gif

  • DragonSpirit009

    Still want to watch it… I like pretty and stupid movies XD

  • miaau

    Tracy, that review as AMAZING, I loved the little story told in the emojis.

    Happy, meet someone, monster, hurt / killed, warning, people, monsters , et al. – to smiling happy people at the end, after the turmoil and explosive actiony stuff

    Beautiful……..

    • Tracy Benson

      Thank you kindly ?

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