Matt Damon is Back in Action

Directed by Zhang Yimou

Starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal

Released February 17th, 2017

Rated PG-13


A band of mercenaries in 11th Century China are being chased into a cave by bandits who want their blood. In the cave, the bandits and all but two of the mercenaries are killed by an unseen monster, with only William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) surviving the attack. William managed to cut off the arm of the monstrosity, and he and Tovar bring it with them on their journey with hope of someone eventually identifying the creature.

Soon they find themselves facing The Great Wall of China. Taken aback by its formidable scale, William and Tovar are immediately captured by its army, The Nameless Order. The Order’s General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) are shocked to find the severed limb in Williams’s possession and what’s more, they seem to know what kind of unearthly being it came from.

I’m not sure what kind of accent Matt Damon is going for here. He either changes it or completely drops it from scene to scene.

It turns out The Great Wall was constructed to keep the Taotie at bay; alien monsters brought here many years ago via meteor and unleashed upon mankind every 60 years as punishment for greed and wrongdoing. The Nameless Order has specialized troops who have trained their whole lives to fight the alien horde, including red-hued archers and blue-outfitted jumpers, who fly through the air with the help of ropes and pulleys.

Before long the Taotie are upon them, but thanks to Tovar’s axe, William’s bow and arrow, and the expertise of Commander Lin (Jing Tian), they retreat at the behest of their queen. After the attack, William and Tovar meet Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a prisoner of The Nameless Order who is plotting his escape with all the black powder he can carry. William and Tovar must choose between staying to help the Order fight the Taotie, or making off Ballard and the coveted black powder.

I saw The Great Wall in a very loud theatre where I was able to fully appreciate the film’s sound design. If you’re going to watch this at home, I recommend turning up your sound system. Skywalker Sound has done a remarkable job bringing the explosions, monster roars, and clashing of swords to life.

Outside of standard action movie tropes, there is no real character development. This would be easier to overlook if the monsters were something to write home about. Dog-like with eyes on their legs, the Taotie are not very interesting. They don’t do anything surprising and aside from their sheer numbers they seem manageable.

I’m not sure what kind of accent Matt Damon is going for here. He either changes it or completely drops it from scene to scene. Dafoe is in full manic mode, while Pascal tries his best to imbue clunky dialogue with personality. The breakout star of the film is Jing Tian, who will undoubtedly go on to appear in better movies than this.

Whitewashing is a term used to describe a role that goes to a white actor that should be played by a different ethnicity. This is not the case in The Great Wall, where Damon is not playing a role intended for a Chinese actor. I wouldn’t even describe his character as a “white savior” as The Nameless Order seem perfectly capable to defending their wall without him.

The Great Wall is a lackluster would-be epic. It may not be an example of whitewashing, but that doesn’t make it a movie worth watching. Hopefully when the Taotie attack again, in the year 2077, we will get a better movie out of it.